11
Dec
11

Assumptions

It has been brought home to me with force lately how dangerous it is to assume people in the religious community have a working understanding of biblical truth.  I have been engaged in an online discussion with a group of people who continue to talk about having been saved and now moving on to something else, in this case what they would call sanctification.  Part of their position is that we are not sanctified by the same grace and gospel that “saved” us.  Apparently, in their view, there is no need for faith in Christ in the sanctification process.  We just sort of roll up our sleeves and get on with the task of obedience now that the work of “salvation” has been completed.  We have believed; now we simply move on to obedience and one thing has nothing to do with the other.

It occurred to me that part of the problem is that for better than a century now, evangelicals have taught us that faith is a decision we make in an evangelistic meeting or in response to a personal appeal in which we are asked to pray the “sinner’s prayer” as if this formula is a “one size fits all” potion that only needs to be repeated and presto, we magically become the children of God.  In this scheme, faith is like a snapshot.  It is as if they are saying, “I believed the gospel 40 years ago.  It happened, then I moved on to the next stage and left faith in Christ behind.”

In reality, true faith is like a video.  By that I mean that true faith in Christ is not something I had, but something I have.  The question we should ask is not “Have you trusted in Christ?” but “Are you trusting in Christ.”  True faith perseveres.

Robert Traill wrote,

And simple as the old remedy for thirst may appear, it is the root of the inward life of all God’s greatest servants in all ages. What have the saints and martyrs been in every era of Church history, but men who came to Christ daily by faith, and found “His flesh meat indeed and His blood drink indeed?” (John vi. 55.) What have they all been but men who lived the life of faith in the Son of God, and drank daily out of the fulness there is in Him? (Gal. ii. 20.) Here, at all events, the truest and best Christians, who have made a mark on the world, have been of one mind. Holy Fathers and Reformers, holy Anglican divines and Puritans, holy Episcopalians and Nonconformists, have all in their best moments borne uniform testimony to the value of the Fountain of life. Separated and contentious as they may sometimes have been in their lives, in their deaths they have not been divided. In their last struggle with the king of terrors they have simply clung to the cross of Christ, . . . .

Robert Traill, Robert Traill’sWorks Vol.I, 1696, (London: Banner of Truth Trust), reprint edition. pp. 266-269.

In other words, in the last moments of his life, the true believer will be found by faith still clinging to Christ, his Savior and great lover of his soul.

The second matter that struck me was the apparent assumption that not only is this initial decision thought of as faith, something we have to do and get it over with, but that the salvation we receive upon making this decision is it. That is all there is to salvation. Now we have been saved; it is time to move on to obedience which apparently we have to muster up on our own. Of course, once we get under way God will get involved and help us, but in its initiatory stages it is our responsibility, and whether we like it or not, we have to do it.

The reality is, our reconciliation with God and our justification before him are simply initiatory steps in the long process of restoring God’s image in us. How often have I heard someone say, “God hasn’t predestined or chosen us to salvation, he has predestined us to be holy and conformed to the image of his Son.” What do they think salvation is? Being saved from the penalty of sin is only one step toward our ultimate conformity to the image of Christ. God’s work of salvation stretches from eternity to eternity. It begins with his plan and purpose in eternity past. It is accomplished by Jesus’ obedience even to the death of the cross. It is applied by the Holy Spirit to the hearts of sinful rebels against God whom he makes willing in the day of his power. It reaches its grand climax in the work of glorification in which believers from all ages will be completely conformed to Christ’s image. The work from start to finish is salvation. It is all accomplished by Christ’s death; every facet of it calls for a complete reliance on Christ. The same cross that justified us also sanctifies and glorifies us.

An old writer named Octavious Winslow penned the following words:

From every tongue in glory, and through the high arches of heaven, the anthem shall peal, “Worthy is the Lamb!” Believer in Christ! pants not your soul to join that song? and exults not your spirit in the truth that salvation, from first to last, is of God? Oh, how precious is the truth in the consciousness of our many failures and defects! Our salvation is all in Christ–our righteousness is all in Christ–our merit is all in Christ–our completeness is all in Christ–in Christ our Covenant Head, our Surety and Mediator; and no flaw in our obedience, no defect in our love, no failure in our service, should so cast us down as to shut our eye to our acceptance in the Beloved. Imperfections we would not overlook, sin we would not allow, disobedience we would not indulge, temptation we would not encourage; nevertheless, we would ever remember, for our encouragement, that, in default of perfection in the most perfect of our doings, we are fully and eternally, complete in Jesus.

Octavius Winslow, The Sympathy of Christ With Man, (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1863) pp. 83-84.

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