Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My Review Of Joseph Mattera's Review Of "Destined To Reign" - Part 4

For the past year, Charisma Magazine has been running many articles against the grace gospel, labeling it "Hyper Grace". One of those articles was written by a regular contributor, Joseph Mattera  (JM). It is a short review of Pastor Joseph Prince's first book, "Destined To Reign" (D2R). Perhaps tellingly, the title of the article was not something along the lines of "Book review: book title" but a rather provocative "Is Joseph Prince's Radical Grace Teaching Biblical?"

Typical of a few reviews of  D2R which I have read, this review also follows the same pattern: "Well, D2R is generally OK, got some useful tips for new Christians BUT...", and these "buts" actually contradict the very essence of what Pastor Prince is trying to teach in his book. JM listed down 7 "buts" and I will deal with them one by one.

Today, I will tackle JM's 4th "but". To facilitate my review of JM's book review, I will reproduce excerpts (in blue) here but you can read JM's full article by clicking his article title (highlighted in bold) above. You can read Part 1 here , Part 2 here, and Part  3a here, 3b here and 3c here and Part 3d here

4. Prince Believes in “Once Saved, Always Saved”  
As a typical dispensationalist, Prince believes that once a person receives Jesus Christ as Savior, they can never lose their salvation. (Some know this as the doctrine of eternal security.) The challenge I have with this is that it fails to interpret individual passages honestly that disagree with this particular system.  For example, Hebrews 6:1-8 and 10:24-29 clearly teach that people, after receiving the saving knowledge of Christ, can fall away and lose their salvation. Second Peter 2:20-22 and James 5:19-20 are as clear as tar on snow that a believer can fall away and once again be called a sinner who has to be restored. There are numerous other passages I can cite but will not because of the time.  I am more comfortable with the Reformed understanding of salvation, which teaches people can experience the fruits of salvation while never being chosen from "the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4), in which case they will not remain in the body of Christ because they were never a part of it to begin with. (First John 2:19 seems to teach the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.) This is the only position I have found sufficient to effectively deal with the conundrum of Scripture that seems to teach both eternal security and that a believer can fall away. I take the position of the apostle Peter: I may think I am saved, but I have to endeavor to make my calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10).

JM says that Scripture "seems to teach both eternal security and that a believer can fall away". He is right on one word - "seems" because he does not understand the true meaning of those passages of scripture. For example, JM says that Hebrews 6:1-8 and 10:24-29 "clearly teach that people, after receiving the saving knowledge of Christ, can fall away and lose their salvation". I disagree with his understanding of those two passages.

It is vitally important to understand who the target audience of the book of Hebrews is, in order to understand Hebrews 6 and 10 in the proper context. Regrettably, JM fails to understand that the book of Hebrews was written to ...wait for it... the Hebrews! 

The author of Hebrews was clearly talking to his fellow Jewish brothers when he says "our ancestors" in the very first verse  - "Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets.(Hebrews 1:1, NLT) Hence, he was preaching to his Jewish brothers, and not the Gentile church, about Jesus Christ in the book of Hebrews.

In that light, let us look at the passages quoted by JM:
Hebrews 6:1-8 
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this we will[a] do if God permits.
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away,[b] to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
7 For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; 8 but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
Hebrews 10:24-29 
24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 

A few weeks ago, Dr Marilyn Hickey preached in NCC and I bought her "Seeing Jesus" study guide. I would like to quote from her study guide regarding the book of Hebrews:

It seems clear from the content of this letter that those who read it were suffering persecution and considering returning to the Jewish faith with its rituals and sacrifices for sin. The book of Hebrews explains the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ over Judaism.

In this Jewish context, we can see that the book of Hebrews is not talking about Christians losing their salvation due to their persistent sinning. The author of Hebrews is actually telling his Jewish brethren that there is no other way to reconcile to God except through Jesus Christ because He has become the new High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek; the old Levitical priesthood is no longer acceptable to God (Hebrews 7:12), and the author explains in Hebrews 1-9 how Christ is far superior to the old system of the law.

In Hebrews 1-3, we read about how Christ is superior over angels and Moses.
Hebrews 1:1-6 
1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself[a] purged our[b] sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
5 For to which of the angels did He ever say:
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You”?[c]
And again:
“I will be to Him a Father,
And He shall be to Me a Son”?[d]
6 But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says:
Let all the angels of God worship Him.”[e]
Hebrews 3:1-6 
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, 2 who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful in all His house. 3 For this One has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as He who built the house has more honor than the house. 4 For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God. 5 And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward, 6 but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.

And in Hebrews 4-9, we read about how the priesthood of Christ is superior over the Levitical priesthood.
Hebrews 6:19 
19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, 20 where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 7:11, 14-17, 28 
11 Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? 12 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 13 For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.
14 For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.[a] 15 And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest 16 who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. 17 For He testifies:[b]
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.
28 For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.

After reading through Hebrews 1-9, we can now understand Hebrews 10 within the context laid out in Hebrews 1-9. Therefore, let us examine Hebrews 10:26-27 which was quoted by JM to prove that Christians can lose their salvation by sinning willfully.

26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.

What is this "sin willfully" and "knowledge of the truth" that the author of Hebrews is referring to? He is not talking about committing sinful acts but flowing from his writings in Hebrews 1-9, we can see that he is talking about the sin of unbelief in Christ, and the truth which the author was referring to is the truth about Christ being the Messiah and the only way to reconciliation with God.

The author has pointed out to the Jews that Jesus Christ was the ultimate sin sacrifice sent by God, once for all time:

Hebrews 9:27, 10: 11-17 
27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. 
11 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
15 But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before,
16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,”[c] 17 then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”[d] 18 Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.

What about "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries"? Doesn't that mean you can lose your salvation? No, it doesn't.

This verse has to be read in context to the earlier verses where Hebrews 10:11-17 explains that Christ's once for all time sacrifice for sins has already bought us remission of our sins and therefore there is no longer any need for any other sacrifice.

Hence, if the Jews willfully reject Christ as the ultimate sacrifice, and return to the law and offer their animal sacrifices, they can only expect judgment because there is now no other sacrifice acceptable to God except Christ.

For a deeper understanding of "Once saved, always saved", I recommend that you listen to Pastor Prince first hand and decide for yourself whether it is truly biblical:

Can You Lose Your Salvation? Part 1—The Truth About Hebrews 6
Is it possible for a Christian to lose his or her salvation? Those who say that it’s certainly possible point readily to the warning in Hebrews 6 as Bible proof. But what is Hebrews 6 really all about? Who are the people being warned here? Joseph Prince tackles these questions head-on in this exciting message and sheds light on this controversial topic.

Can You Lose Your Salvation? Part 2—The Truth About Hebrews 10
Can a Christian “sin willfully” in the context of Hebrews 10:26 and lose his or her salvation? Join Joseph Prince as he tackles this difficult question many Christians grapple with, and outlines the context for the warning that has frightened many sincere believers. Discover also what the judgment for this particular sin is, whom it is really meant for and whether a Christian can ever be subject to it. Listen to this important message and gain for yourself a clear biblical understanding of this oft-misconstrued portion of Scripture, as well as a deeper revelation and appreciation of the efficacy of Jesus’ sacrifice and blood.

(to be continued... Part 5)

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