Monday, November 17, 2008

The Last Days - Warning Passages & Eternal Security

Today's post comes in response to a recent question on where Anonymous writes (gross misspellings corrected):

"[I am] Trying to prepare a sermon for the body of our local church. I feel that [we're] living in what the Bible calls the last days before the coming of lord Jesus Christ. [I am] looking for some Biblical answers that show that many will fall from [their] faith in these days. To show them that this is a very bad thing to do, and [their] salvation is nothing to be playing around with.
Where do I begin. Let's start with basic hermeneutic principle: "I feel that..." followed by "I am looking for Biblical answers that show..." will always yield the answers you seek, but it may not be the answers that the Bible gives. Let me rephrase: if you enter into a study of Scripture with a foregone conclusion in mind and seek only to find the scriptural evidence to build your case, you will succeed in finding what you want to find, but that does not necessarily mean that you found truth.

However, we must all acknowledge that we do this to some degree. Covenant Theologians assume certain facts about Old Testament prophesy. Evangelicals de-emphasize the gospels and emphasize Paul. And Calvinists assume softer interpretations of the word "world" as well as the many warning passages, of which our anonymous inquisitor is expressly interested in.

Lucky for anonymous, I'm not a Calvinist... [clears throat] I'm just reformed [grin].

First, in regards to the present day being the last days. I'm not very certain about that. I do not claim to be an expert on eschatology, but there are several descriptions of the "last days" in scripture, even signs that they are near, and we haven't seen all of them come true. One of my friends and colleagues once commented that for at least 200 years, every generation has believed theirs to be the last. My wife's great grandfather recently passed away, yet right up until the day of his death he was so certain these were the last days that he swore that he would be taken in the rapture. Was the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD the abomination that causes desolation? It's not so cut-and-dry.

However, that wasn't really the basis of anonymous' question, and if he would like to preach a sermon with that assumption in mind, I would not fault him in the least. The more troubling assumption I see is that many will fall from their faith (that's nearly verbatim, but slightly skewed) and that this is an event that the presumably saved members of anonymous' congregation will do via "playing around" with their justified status before God.

Let's look at the text in question here, Matthew 24:9-25. In describing the events, Jesus toggles between specific you's and general many's. In verse 4, He warns His disciples specifically about deceptive prophets. But in verse 5, it is an ambiguous group that is misled by them. Again in verses 6 and 9, Jesus gives specific predictions of what will happen to "you," His followers. The warning of falling away in verse 10, then, is once again generic.

What does it mean that many will fall away, or as the NIV puts it "abandon the faith?" Just as Christ, the stumbling stone, caused many Jews to disbelieve, so will the turmoil and seemingly unjust cruelty cause many to abandon any hope in Yaweh, the god of Israel. But there is no evidence in the text that tells us these who fall away are the elect, having been justified through faith by Christ's blood, now abandoning their own salvation.

On the contrary, Jesus actually speaks some comfort to His followers. He declares that these deceiving prophets will try, "to deceive even the elect—if that were possible." Through my lens of interpretation I assume the unspoken truth here to be that it is indeed not possible. Jesus continues saying, "See, I have told you ahead of time," as though these warnings would be used to prevent His elect from being fooled.

So, anonymous, how would I preach this sermon if I were you? Do not use fear of damnation as a deterrent for sin. Instead, challenge the body of believers to "make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 2:10). Sure to whom? To God? Certainly not. If you fear the certainty of your eternal security, prove it to yourself by living out the life that only the Spirit can enable. Then, you can face tribulation and even death in the last days with confidence in:
"an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:4-5; emphasis mine).

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  • Christians have been talking about the "last days" for nearly 2000 years.

    And of course every single one of them has died.

    And nobody has the faintest idea of what happened to their spirit when their meat-body died.

    And you could drop dead in five seconds from now and not one word of what you have ever thought, written, or spoken will make the slightest bit of difference as to what will happen to your spirit when the DEATH PROCESS begins to occur.

    It generally takes about three days for the spirit being to become completely dis-entangled with all of its bodily associations.

    How will you or any of your loved ones assist that PROCESS, either in your own case and others too?

    If you dont know how to assist the process then you WILL inevitably disturb the process and thus do the person a dis-service. That is retard or prevent their easeful passage in to the "next" life-- wherever that is.

    Plus the essential key to surrendering into the death process is to let go of fear.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At November 18, 2008 at 5:00 AM  

  • Well, then... I guess that settles it. So, pray tell, where did you acquire such insight into the "death process?" It's certainly an extra-biblical view, and your ambiguity as to what the "next life" may be leads me to believe we probably share a drastically different world view. But, I'll bite...

    Yes, every Christian dies... but will be raised again.

    We do know what happens to them after they die.

    You're correct, however, that my thoughts, writings, and spoken word do not impact my final destination: we call this salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.

    Not sure where your 3-day theory comes from. I'll leave that to the philosophers.

    Agreed. We cannot assist in someone else's post-mortem life.

    Interesting that you think we cannot assist, yet we can hinder. I would categorically disagree there.

    Right again. Because of my faith in Christ, I do not fear death. "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Cor. 15:55)

    By Blogger Unknown, At November 18, 2008 at 7:53 AM  

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