The Hope of the Gospel
"If ye continue in the faith... and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel... which was preached to every creature...; whereof I Paul am made a minister..."
A reader writes, "Apostasy is surely gaining momentum. This is why we find it so difficult to believe in 'once saved, always saved.'" Surely a true Christian could be deceived - or the person may never have been saved. Which of these alternatives is true, only God knows: "the Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Tm 2:19). We cannot judge hearts.
Yet we must judge words, doctrines and deeds: "Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (Rom 16:17); "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear" (1 Tm 5:20); "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine [of Christ], receive him not..." (2 Jn 1:10); "I will remember his deeds... [and] malicious words" (3 Jn 1:10). Such mandatory correction in the church requires us to judge words, doctrines and deeds.
We take that responsibility seriously. In our January "Q&A" we revealed the gross heresies in The Gospel According to Judas. Some of our readers (as we encourage them to do) wrote to the publisher, NavPress, which acknowledged that "to publish the book was a mistake," and withdrew the book and destroyed all stock. Still unexplained is how a trusted evangelical publisher could print, and leading evangelicals endorse, a book that so flagrantly perverted the gospel! We wait to see what NavPress will do to notify those who had purchased the book, what public repentance there will be by the author (a pastor!), and what discipline will be imposed by Fuller Theological Seminary, where he teaches.
Judas is not the only heresy NavPress has turned out lately, and it is still in supposed evangelical hands. The situation is even worse with the many major evangelical publishers which have been taken over by secular corporations attracted by the profit potential of Christian publishing.
Truth, sound doctrine and evangelism, once paramount, are now hostages to a return on investment. Even worse is the Christian music business. The secular media is scathing in its rebuke of the $3 billion a year Christian book and music market, "where God and mammon mingle on easy terms":
"[T]he immutable Word of God has been re-formatted for the neurotic Nineties.... Every major Christian record label is now owned by a secular media conglomerate such as Warner Brothers, Sony, or EMI."1
Many churches are little better. The passion for popularity and growth can be as corrupting and compromising as the desire for profit. Newsweek declared insightfully:
"The aim... is to lure baby boomers back to church by welcoming all comers regardless of their beliefs... mainline denominations may be dying because they lost their theological integrity. The only thing worse, perhaps, would be the rise of a new Protestant establishment that succeeds because it never had any."2
Ronald Potter, a black theology professor, writes, "Too many black Christians are suffering from 'theological and biblical illiteracy' because their churches emphasize emotion more than doctrine, leaving them vulnerable to the ideas of Farrakhan.... Some black ministers practice a 'new radicalism,' placing racial loyalty above 'seeking and telling the truth.'"3 A secular columnist with no love for Christianity writes derisively,
"Here are the exact words said to me by the senior minister of a Presbyterian Church of 1,500 members. "Just play the game... just say the sweet things they want to hear, don't upset anyone with biblical and religious scholarship. Look at this beautiful church building I've got, plus all the perks, free golf and country club memberships, big salary."
I said to him, "Jack, you're pathetic, you're a wimp. You're the problem.""4
Salvation is "not by works of righteousness" (Ti 3:5). Thus a man's work are not always proof of whether he is saved. An unsaved Gandhi can perform seemingly good works, while a genuine Christian (such as the man in Corinth who had his father's wife) may stoop to unspeakable evil - but a true Christian will repent and be corrected. The truly saved are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Eph 2:10), and Christlikeness should characterize their lives. Yet it is possible for a true Christian not to have one good work to be rewarded in eternity: "Every man's work... shall be revealed by fire; and the fire [at the Judgment Seat of Christ] shall try [test] every man's work of what sort it is.... If any man's work shall be burned [consumed], he shall suffer loss [of reward]: but he himself shall be saved" (1 Cor 3:12-15).
In all of Paul's corrective epistles he never accused those whom he reproved of having lost their salvation. He did say to the Galatians, "I stand in doubt of you" (Gal 4:20). That doubt, however, arose because of their improper beliefs, not because of their lack of works. In fact, it was their reliance for salvation upon works (keeping the law) in addition to faith in Christ which caused Paul to question whether they were saved.
Christ died to save sinners, the Apostles gave their lives to preach the gospel, and martyrs by the millions died to keep that message pure. Today even the Church mocks the truth in the name of Christ! Representatives of the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, American Baptist, United Church of Christ, United Methodist and Presbyterian churches have apologized for giving the gospel to the American Indians: "Dear Brothers and Sisters: This is a formal apology... for the destruction of traditional Native American spiritual practices. We ask for your forgiveness and blessings. The spiritual power of your religion could have been a great gift to us." The United Church of Canada groveled, "Our Christian image of God is twisted and blurred. We were closed to the beauty of your spirituality. Please forgive us."5
Imagine Christ apologizing for dying for the sins of the world and being the only Savior; or Paul apologizing to Jews, Greeks and Romans for winning them to Christ! Behold the shameful spectacle of "Christian" leaders who so easily abandon the gospel yet refuse to back down from imposing their perverted passions upon the native world! Even the secular press rebukes such hypocrisy:
"Lock up your sons, Zimbabwe. The World Council of Churches is coming to town. Its officials have secured agreement that homosexuals attending its assembly in Harare in 1998 will be allowed to indulge their desires without fear of prosecution. Homosexual acts are banned in the African nation, and punishable by 12 months in prison.... Few issues could be better calculated to enrage council delegates, for whom sodomy, which, in traditional Christian teaching is a sin "which cries to Heaven for vengeance," is seen as a God-given right. Fearing that the assembly might take itself and its hard currency elsewhere, Zimbabwe has agreed to a memorandum of understanding relaxing the law....
[T]he council would almost certainly, in other circumstances, disapprove of the "cultural imperialism" of a demand that a Third World country change its laws to suit outsiders. Couldn't these licentious clergymen... after a hard day's debate on poverty... practise a bit of chastity in the evenings?"
Immorality inevitably follows the compromise of biblical truth, the despising of sound doctrine and the rejection of the gospel that characterize denominations belonging to the World Council of Churches. Among WCC members is the largest Lutheran group in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), which unashamedly retains "evangelical" in its name. David W. Cloud tells of attending the installation service for an ELCA bishop presided over by ELCA head bishop Herbert Chilstrom. Cloud says that Chilstrom "spoke on environmentalism and pacifism" and addressed the Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Jewish rabbis present as "part of Christ through baptism... [and] told how he gladly blessed a rosary... [but] nowhere in his message did he speak of the cross, the blood or the atonement of Jesus Christ... [but] a false gospel of church sacraments and universalism... which will lead those who follow it to eternal Hell." Cloud continues:
"The entire experience was very sad and grievous to my spirit as I observed the pageantry, the solemnity, the appearance of piety which had been put on before the service just as a woman puts on her makeup. ...Not a hair was out of place, nor a voice off key in the two choirs, and the massive pipe organ gave forth just the desired sounds... [but all] was contrary to the Word of God...."
Our Lord warns that many who claim to have prophesied, cast out demons and worked miracles in His name will not be in heaven. He does not, however, tell them that they have lost their salvation but that they were never His: "I never knew you" (Mt 7:23)! Solemn words from the One who said, "I... know my sheep, and am known of mine" (Jn 10:14)! If Christ never knew these "Christian leaders," then they were never Christians at all! Clearly, one's salvation has nothing to do with works, no matter how great or good, but whether one believes the gospel.
Salvation is "by faith" (Eph 2:8; 1 Pt 1:5; 1 Jn 5:13; Rom 1:16). Hence the importance of doctrine and John's clear declaration that whosoever "abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God" (2 Jn 1:9). Paul said, "Believe on [rely upon] the Lord Jesus Christ [who He is and what He has done for our salvation], and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). Christ said, "He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (Jn 6:47) and "shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (Jn 5:24). Those who lack assurance have not believed Christ.
Well, then, if one is absolutely certain that the moment he dies his soul and spirit will be "absent from the body,... present with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:8), why is the word "hope" used? "Hope" is not always uncertain. Even dictionaries also define hope as "confidence in a future event; the highest degree of well-founded expectation." Paul explains: "But if we hope for that we see not [i.e., which is future], then do we with patience wait for it" (Rom 8:24-25); the "hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Ti 1:2). Nothing could be more certain.
God's promise is declared to be immutable; that is, unchangeable. God has even confirmed His promise by an oath, swearing by Himself on His own honor. Thus the believer's "hope of salvation," far from being uncertain, is "an anchor of the soul." Consider carefully, and believe, the absolute certainty of God's promise:
"God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast ." (Heb 6:17-20)
Those Protestants who deny the doctrine of eternal security, which they disparagingly label "once saved, always saved," are unwittingly clinging to a major Roman Catholic dogma that subverted the Reformation. No Catholic can be certain that he is eternally saved. That is why prayers are offered and masses performed for the dead. However, even confession to a priest for absolution and indulgences offered by the Church are losing their appeal because after being forgiven, a subsequent mortal sin (such as failure to attend mass weekly) nullifies all past forgiveness and leaves one dangling over the flames of hell once again.
Cardinal Krol, former spiritual leader of Philadelphia's more than a million Roman Catholics, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that his major worries were "My salvation, getting to heaven."7 The Vatican's highest theological authority, Cardinal Ratzinger, expresses the same concern for his salvation. New York's Cardinal O'Connor told The New York Times, "Church teaching is that I don't know, at any given moment, what my eternal future will be. I can hope, pray, do my very best - but I still don't know. Pope John Paul II doesn't know absolutely that he will go to heaven, nor does Mother Teresa of Calcutta...."8 The latter expressed her tenuous hope at the 1993 Presidential Prayer breakfast:
"One of the most demanding things for me is traveling everywhere - and with publicity. I have said to Jesus that if I don't go to heaven for anything else, I will be going to heaven for all the traveling with all the publicity, because it has purified me and sacrificed me and made me really ready to go to heaven."9
A medical doctor and lifelong Catholic wrote to Cardinal O'Connor and contrasted his statement of uncertainty about heaven with the absolute assurance the Bible offers to all who will "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:31). Said the doctor, "After showing O'Connor's published article and my letter to our parish priest, I was relived of [teaching] my sixth-grade CCD [religion] class.... Once you discover the clear message of the Bible... [it] become[s] a barrier to remaining a Catholic."10
Anyone, whether Protestant or Catholic, who places his hope for salvation in anything [such as his ability to remain faithful to Christ, good works, sacraments, prayers, or ritual) in addition to Christ's sacrifice of Himself for our sins upon the cross, has not believed Christ's promise. He has rejected God's Word and has denied the gospel. How could anyone who truly understands doubt Christ's ability to save?
Here are only a few biblical promises: "These things have I written unto you that believe in the name of the Son of God, that ye may know [present absolute certainty] that ye have [present possession] eternal life" (1 Jn 5:13); "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (Jn 3:36); "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish" (Jn 10:27-28). Let us believe His promises, receive His gracious gift, and rejoice in His assurance. TBC
- National Review (June 17, 1996), 49-50.
- Newsweek (Aug. 9, 1993), 48.
- National and International Religion Report (May 13, 1996), 3.
- The Chieftain (Pueblo, CO, July 22, 1995), 4B.
- Daily Telegraph (London, May 2, 1996).
- The Philadelphia Inquirer (February 16, 1975).
- The New York Times (February 1, 1990), B4.
- Christianity Today (March 6, 1995).
- "Digging in the Walls" (O Timothy, vol 12, issue 7-8, 1995),35.