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The Gospel (Good News) of the Kingdom (more)
Believe in Jesus and you will inherit eternal life. But look at the context of John 3:16 for a true understanding of the Gospel. John 3:14-15, says: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." The people of Old Testament Israel were told to look upon the serpent to be healed of sickness and disease. But Christ was lifted up so that we can be healed from sin. We must be saved from sin. All sins are habitual. If we still sin, we must continue to look to the cross in order to stop sinning – in order to be healed from our sinful habits, so that we no longer sin. Only then can we inherit eternal life. (more)
Romans Under New Light
Bridging the Doctrines of Catholics and Protestants
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On the night before the crucifixion, Jesus prayed that we, the Church, would be one even as he and the heavenly Father are one. This was probably true during the time of the first church. But it's certainly not true today. Does the Father answer the prayers of Jesus? Will Jesus return to find his Church split between the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, and the Protestants? Or can we expect a Great Awakening in the Church which will fundementally unite the Church?
Can we expect to agree on every doctrinal issue before Christ returns? Perhaps not. But if we can agree on the doctrine of salvation then we will be fundementally united. If we can agree on the doctrine of salvation then other issues will work themselves out.
Did Luther go perhaps a bit too far when he established the Protestant doctrine of salvation? Have we drifted even further than Luther would have intended? Could it be that the truth hides in the middle, between the Catholic and the Protestant doctrines?
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Traditionally, Protestants have described salvation in three steps: Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification. Those who have a strong belief in election would argue that once you are justified you will always be justified. The journey of sanctification is often seen as a part of salvation but is not really considered as necessary for going to heaven.
Protestants who believe in salvation election are generally understood to be Calvinists. This is also known as the Reformed view. The Reformed view might or might not view salvation as a journey. Those who view salvation strictly as a decision might say “once saved, always saved.” Others, who put more emphasis on the journey prefer terminology like “perseverance of the saints.” This means that once someone professes Christ, that God will renew their faith if they ever lose their faith. Calvinists tend to say that you can’t completely overcome sin.
Reformed Protestants believe that sanctification is completed after you die or at the rapture. In other words, the completion of sanctification is wrapped up into glorification. This is reasoned based on the Reformed view that you can’t completely overcome sin while in the flesh.
Does God take the first steps towards us? Or do we take the first steps towards God? Does God choose us? Or do we choose God? The Reformed view of salvation election (Luther and Calvin) is that God chooses those he will draw to Himself. The Calvinist believes that God’s draw is irresistible. (The “I” of TULIP is Irresistible grace.)
The Wesleyan view is a bit different. It’s considered the opposite of the Reformed view in Protestant circles. (John Wesley founded the Methodist Church.) Wesley believed in what he called the “second blessing.” It’s by faith and through grace. One prays for Christian perfection. When received, it’s believed that you no longer have a tendency to sin. You can completely overcome all your sinful habits.
If God chooses us before the foundation of the world, it means God decides who will be saved. It also means that God decides who will not be saved. Souls would be created by God knowing that they will have no chance for anything but an eternity burning in hell. Is this really the character or even the justice of God? An atheist once told me that if God did exits, that God would be his worse enemy. Calvinists do not paint a very loving picture of God.
Wesleyans, on the other hand, do not believe in salvation election. And Wesleyans believe in Christian perfection, which is very much based on 1 John. “Whoever remains in him doesn't sin. Whoever sins hasn't seen him, neither knows him” (1 John 3:6). This leads Wesleyans to believe you can lose your salvation if you fall back into sin. But you can get it back again.
Wesleyans believe in a “second blessing.” They believe in losing and gaining salvation back again without the “perseverance of the saints.” But what happens if you lose your salvation and then die before getting it back again? And what about those who die having never heard about Christ?
Is it possible to have a system where salvation is a journey to Christian perfection and entire sanctification without believing you could lose your salvation if you fall back into sin? Is it possible to believe that God draws us to himself, but that God’s draw can be resisted, making it our choice? Is it possible to believe that God will at some point draw everyone of all generations to himself, but that God’s draw is not irresistible, and thus God does not choose who will be saved? Is it possible to believe that salvation is a journey which must be completed here on the earth, but that we can have an assurance of completing that journey?
A young man is in love with a young woman. He asks her for her hand in marriage. She refuses to return his love. But the young man is a powerful wizard. He can conjure up a love potion and force the woman to fall in love with him. His draw on her would become irresistible. But does he do so? In wisdom, he desires a love that comes out of choice. True love comes only by the free will to choose.
Adam was given a free-will choice to eat the fruit in disobedience. This broke the covenant (relationship) between God and Adam (Hosea 6:7). But Christ Jesus died for us to give us the choice to come back to the Bridegroom. Jesus said, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32). Nobody will be left out. Everyone will be drawn to Christ. Some are drawn sooner. Some are later. The first will teach the last. And everyone will have the choice to respond to God’s love. Death is not a limitation for God’s plan of redemption.
Each of us can choose to respond to Christ’s draw and begin to follow Christ in faith. But we still have a tendency to be unfaithful to God. We must completely overcome all our sinful habits before entering the kingdom and the wedding banquet. Death does not remove our sinful habits. In following Christ we learn to truly love our Bridegroom. We learn to love the Father and our neighbors. As our love grows our sinful habits are overcome. Is this the truth that hides in the middle?
Roman Catholics approach salvation a bit differently. Catholics believe the original sin of Adam is removed at the time of baptism. After that, salvation is a journey of both justification and sanctification. Justification and sanctification are seen as basically equivalent. Jesus forgives sins during Mass. In addition, merits involving works help bring about a purification. Catholic saints complete their journey of sanctification through an abundance of merits and are able to go straight to heaven when they die. Everyone else must spend time in the fire of purgatory in order to be cleansed and purified.
Catholics are often accused by Protestants of having a doctrine of salvation that is entirely works based. That’s not really true. Catholics believe that sins are forgiven by Christ in an on-going basis. In Catholic Mass, the bread and the wine become the body of Christ, and therefore become a sacrifice. This new sacrifice is made for the forgiveness of newly committed sins. Thus, sins are forgiven by grace. Therefore, grace is part of the journey. Both justification (the sacrifice) and sanctification (becoming holy) continually occur as part of the journey.
Many Protestants, on the other hand, do not focus on the journey. Salvation becomes a decision. They believe all past, present, and future sins are forgiven when one becomes a believer. So unlike the Catholics, the journey does not involve the forgiveness of sins. Grace happens all at the same time. This makes the Protestant tend to ignore any aspect of a journey in salvation. Works and sanctification are thought of as being entirely after grace. Grace tends to be about the forgiveness of sins and is usually not associated with our journey of sanctification.
This difference in the journey, and in how one views grace, can be a key factors in how one views works in relation to salvation. Remember that many Protestants do not consider salvation to include a journey. One is “saved” on a specific date that is written in one’s Bible. But if you ask a Catholic if he is saved, he might say, “No, but I will be saved.” Or he might say, “Yes, I’ve been saved and I will be saved again tomorrow.” The Catholics believe that works of merit are a necessary part of salvation. And these works of merit are needed to satisfy Divine justice.
This is where purgatory and indulgences come into the picture. Catholics do not believe that baptism, the sacrifice in Mass, and penance will typically eradicate all sins. Works of merit and/or temporal punishment are required to satisfy God’s Divine justice. Indulgences can be given that are based on a treasury of merits, which is an excess of merits from the saints. These indulgences reduce one’s time in purgatory. Be it works of merits on behalf of the individual, or be it works of merit performed by a saint, work is being done to satisfy Divine justice.
This is by far the biggest objection the Protestant has concerning the Catholic doctrine of salvation. Paul seems to make it clear that we are saved by grace and through faith alone, and not by works. Yet good works are arguably involved in the journey. From the Protestant perspective, works are a part of sanctification, which is the journey to overcome one’s sinful habits. They are not an atonement.
Protestants need to understand that salvation includes a journey. We don’t need to adopt purgatory. But we need to understand why this journey must be completed before we can enter the kingdom of heaven.
The purpose of this book is to find the truth that hides between the doctrines of Catholics and Protestants. It’s also a truth that hides between the Wesleyan view and the Reformed view. The purpose is to set aside our presuppositions and take a fresh look at Romans to see if there is a truth that hides in the middle. To this end, we will first take a look back to the Reformation, when the Catholics and the Protestants parted ways.
What motivated Martin Luther? What were his limitations? Originally, Luther didn’t want to leave the Catholic Church. But he publicly debated them initially about the issue of indulgences. He started to write about salvation by grace alone and the fact that the pope is not infallible. They excommunicated Luther. Under Catholic law, this meant that Luther and his followers would go to hell. Luther advocated a doctrine of salvation that did not involve being a part of the Catholic Church.
Indulgences were the main problem that Luther had with the Catholic Church. After many years in the fire of purgatory, you can go to heaven. Most people wind up in purgatory because only Catholic saints can go straight to heaven. Indulgences were donations to the Catholic Church which reduced one’s time in purgatory. The thought of purgatory can be very terrifying. The poor, who had no hope of becoming a Catholic saint, were enticed into sacrificing all their money for indulgences. Also, the Germans hated the fact that all that money was leaving Germany to build cathedrals in Rome.
The teaching of purgatory, indulgences, and works of merit tend to make people terrified of God. Luther was terrified of God. There is a healthy fear of God that is accompanied by our love of the Father and love of our neighbors. This leads us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. But to constantly be in fear of a God that intends to throw you into the fire of purgatory can make you always feel guilty and never good enough to be even liked, must less loved, by God.
The other emotional response to this fear is to push it into the back of your mind along with God. The sacraments of Mass and penance can be performed out of a sense of duty. There can be a tendency to not experience the love of the Father, and therefore to not fall in love with God. This makes the overcoming of sin be almost impossible, and it turns Christianity into something like living under the Law.
Luther began to understand grace when he read this verse. The thing that jumped out at him was the phrase, “righteousness from God.” Righteousness is not active in the sense that it comes from our works of merit. Righteousness is passive in that it comes from God.
Romans 1:16-17 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (17) For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
Paul’s quote of Habakkuk 2:4 has become famous in Protestant circles. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther’s original German translation, when translated back to English, reads, “The just shall live by faith.” Some translations, however, are quite different. In the New American (Catholic) Bible, we read: "The one who is righteous by faith will live." The RSV renders it as "He who through faith is righteous shall live." Young's Literal translates it as, "And the righteous one by faith shall live."
The question at hand is whether the prepositional phrase “by faith” modifies the verb “to live”, or whether it modifies “the one who is righteous.” Both meanings are similar. But the Catholic translation seems to bring out the journey aspect of faith a bit better. Our journey by faith towards righteousness leads to eternal life.
Luther was very quick to preach salvation by grace through faith alone. But he was slow to give up purgatory. At first, his fight was against indulgences and not purgatory. His original 95 theses against indulgences, published in 1517, assumed the existence of purgatory. He believed we could not affect what God needs to do in order to cleanse us and make us righteous. But after some time, he realized that purgatory itself goes against salvation by grace alone.
In his 1521 treatise, An Argument in Defense of All the Articles of Dr. Martin Luther Wrongly Condemned in the Roman Bull, Luther writes:
THE THIRTY-SEVENTH ARTICLE
That there is a purgatory cannot be proved by those Scriptures which are authentic and trustworthy.
The existence of purgatory I have never denied. I still hold that it exists, as I have written and admitted many times, though I have found no way of proving it incontrovertibly from Scripture or reason. … I myself have come to the conclusion that there is a purgatory, but I cannot force anybody else to come to the same result.
Luther goes on to dispute the traditional arguments of Scripture that are used to support purgatory. He does not, at this point in time, deny the existence of purgatory. But by 1535, Luther is convinced that there is no purgatory saying it’s a “lie of the devil.” He wrote, “Purgatory is the greatest falsehood because it is based on ungodliness and unbelief; for they deny that faith saves, and they maintain that satisfaction for sins is the cause of salvation.”
Thus, between 1521 and 1535, Luther’s opinion about purgatory matured in his realization that it goes against salvation by grace alone. Luther had no alternative to offer in replacement of purgatory. Thus, over time, many Protestants began to think of salvation as a decision and not a journey. If one is still sinning when they die, it is reasoned, they will stop sinning when they get to heaven. But this is not taught by Scripture any more than purgatory. Is there a free-grace alternative to purgatory that can be reasoned from Scripture?
Luther admitted he had no Scriptural evidence for purgatory. But he continued to believe in purgatory. This goes against Sola Scriptura. From the time of the 95 theses, it took as much as 14 years for him to change his mind. Could it be that down deep Luther still understood that salvation is a journey which must be completed before we can enter the kingdom of heaven? We must overcome all our sinful habits before entering the kingdom of heaven. Protestants need a free-grace alternative to purgatory that is supported by Scripture.
As we continue to read Romans, see if it can be read from a view of salvation by free-grace alone, but at the same time, salvation as a journey which must be completed.
John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist Church. He is well-known for his belief in a “second blessing” which brings Christian perfection or “entire sanctification.” In other words, Wesley believed in holiness. He took seriously the words of Jesus such as “be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Much of what Wesley believed comes from 1 John. John writes about sin in terms of being in the light or being in darkness. There is no middle ground. The light that we are expected to walk is the same as the light in which Christ walked. So it’s very much like being perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. There doesn’t seem to be much room for a middle ground.
1 John 1:6-10 If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don't tell the truth. (7) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. (8) If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (10) If we say that we haven't sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Many Protestants of the Reformed view often use 1 John 1:8 as a proof-text for the claim that you can’t stop sinning. But is this verse saying we can’t stop sinning, or is it saying we are all guilty of sin? The New American (Catholic) Bible translates the verse as, “If we say, ‘we are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” This translation is much more easily understood as saying we all hold the guilt of sin. It doesn’t necessarily mean we all continue to sin.
When it’s translated as “we have no sin,” in the English, the word “no” is modifying the noun “sin.” But in the Greek, the word for “no” is an adverb. Adverbs must modify verbs. The verb here means “to have” or “to hold.” So in the Greek it would mean we “do not hold sin.” A much better translation would be, “If we say, ‘we do not hold sin,’ we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” We all hold the guilt of sin. But we don’t have to continually sin. This translation fits nicely in the context of walking in the light, just as Jesus was in the light. It also fits the rest of the letter, which is about overcoming all our sinful habits. In the very next verses we read:
1 John 2:1-2 My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counselor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. (2) And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.
John writes this letter so that we may not sin. Some Reformed theologians say there are two types of sins. Some sins you can overcome. Other sins you can’t overcome. There is no indication here of two types of sins. That’s just reading into the text to make it say what you want it to say.
1 John 3:4-6 Everyone who sins also commits lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness. (5) You know that he was revealed to take away our sins, and in him is no sin. (6) Whoever remains in him doesn't sin. Whoever sins hasn't seen him, neither knows him.
1 John 5:18 We know that whoever is born of God doesn't sin, but he who was born of God keeps himself, and the evil one doesn't touch him.
John teaches us to overcome sin by loving the Father and loving one another. Wesley took these words, as well as similar words of Jesus, Peter, and Paul very seriously. Don’t attempt to find a work-around such as claiming there are two types of sins. John’s words are clear. We can and must overcome all our sinful habits. And it’s done through love.
Wesley believed in entire sanctification, also known as Christian perfection. But it would have to be by the grace of God. Therefore, Wesley believed in what he called a “second blessing.” He believed God, if asked, will completely take away one’s tendency to sin. Many people became filled with the Holy Spirit and believed they had received this second blessing. But people tend to fall back into sinful habits when tested and tempted. It’s very much like being an alcoholic. People can fall off the bandwagon. All sins are habitual and must be overcome in very much the same way as an alcoholic overcomes the desire to drink alcohol. From this perspective, overcoming sin is much more like a journey. But it’s a journey of free grace. The Holy Spirit fills us and helps us overcome our sinful habits.
Viewing the overcoming of sin as a “second blessing,” as in another date we can write in our Bibles, can make people start viewing some sins as not sinful. What about sins of the mind such as lust, unrighteous anger, jealousy, bitterness, greed, and covetousness? Jesus taught that lust is the same as adultery and hatred is the same as murder. These types of sinful habits typically require some time with the Lord to mature and overcome. Maturity typically requires more of a journey than a one-time “second blessing.”
But what about believers who die before they overcome all their sinful habits? From Wesley’s perspective, what about people who die having received the first blessing but not the second? Wesley did not address the issue directly. He was more concerned with preaching holiness. But we can take an educated guess as to what Wesley was thinking.
Wesley believed in an intermediate state between death and the final judgment. He believed this place is paradise. Believers could even continue to grow in holiness in paradise. Ted A. Campbell, a professor at Perkins School of Theology, in his book titled Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials, writes the following (pages 91-92):
The Methodist Articles of Religion, following the teachings of the Reformation, rejected the medieval Catholic idea of purgatory as a place where the souls of those who have died in Christ could be aided or helped by the prayers of the living. John Wesley himself believed in an intermediate state between death and the final judgment, where those who rejected Christ would be aware of their coming doom (not yet pronounced), and believers would share in the “bosom of Abraham” or “paradise,” even continuing to grow in holiness there. This belief, however, is not formally affirmed in Methodist doctrinal standards, which reject the idea of purgatory but beyond that maintain silence on what lies between death and the last judgment.
To get a better idea of Wesley’s belief about the intermediate state, let’s take a look at some of his writings. In his sermon on “Of Hell” (II.4; Sermons Vol. II pg. 384), Wesley writes:
But as happy as the souls in paradise are, they are preparing for far greater happiness. For paradise is only the porch of heaven; and it is there the spirits of just men are made perfect. It is in heaven only that there is the fulness of joy; the pleasures that are at God's right hand for evermore. The loss of this, by those unhappy spirits, will be the completion of their misery. They will then know and feel, that God alone is the centre of all created spirits; and, consequently, that a spirit made for God can have no rest out of him.
Wesley often spoke of being carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham after death. He used the parable of Lazarus and equated the bosom of Abraham with paradise. In his sermon on “The Rich Man and Lazarus” (I.3; Sermons Vol. III pg. 246), Wesley refers to paradise as an antechamber of heaven. This word means a smaller room that serves as an entryway into a larger room.
But see the change! "The beggar died:" Here ended poverty and pain: -- "And was carried by angels;" nobler servants than any that attended the rich man; -- "into Abraham's bosom:" -- So the Jews commonly termed what our blessed Lord styles paradise; the place "where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary are at rest;" the receptacle of holy souls, from death to the resurrection. It is, indeed, very generally supposed, that the souls of good men, as soon as they are discharged from the body, go directly to heaven; but this opinion has not the least foundation in the oracles of God: On the contrary, our Lord says to Mary, after the resurrection, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father" in heaven. But he had been in paradise, according to his promise to the penitent thief: "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise." Hence, it is plain, that paradise is not heaven. It is indeed (if we may be allowed the expression) the antechamber of heaven, where the souls of the righteous remain till, after the general judgment, they are received into glory.
In his sermon on “Human Life a Dream” (section 12; Sermons Vol. III pg. 322-323), Wesley pictures the earth as “below” paradise. Paradise would be in the “third heaven.” And yet paradise is “only a porch of heaven.”
But how do you relish the company that surrounds you? Your old companions are gone; a great part of them probably separated from you never to return. Are your present companions angels of light? -- ministering spirits, that but now whispered, "Sister spirit, come away! We are sent to conduct thee over that gulf into Abraham's bosom." And what are those? Some of the souls of the righteous, whom thou didst formerly relieve with "the mammon of unrighteousness;" and who are now commissioned by your common Lord to receive, to welcome you "into the everlasting habitations." Then the angels of darkness will quickly discern they have no part in you. So they must either hover at a distance, or flee away in despair. Are some of these happy spirits that take acquaintance with you, the same that travelled with you below, and bore a part in your temptations; that, together with you, fought the good fight of faith, and laid hold on eternal life? As you then wept together, you may rejoice together, you and your guardian angels perhaps, in order to increase your thankfulness for being "delivered from so great a death."
Wesley originated the doctrine of Christian perfection. He considered both justification and sanctification to be by faith. One could become filled with God’s love to the point that there was no longer room for sin. He recognized that for some, this could take a while. But he believed that by faith one could become entirely sanctified in a matter of moments. Those who are entirely sanctified no longer have a tendency to sin. This was also known as a second blessing.
Wesley tended to have the same view about faith as most Protestants, in that one is changed in a moment when they first have faith. He looked at the faith for justification as being very similar to the faith for sanctification. But the faith for sanctification would generally come at some later date after that of justification.
Wesley tended to avoid salvation as a journey. But he did quote Paul in 1 Timothy 6:12. In the quote above, Wesley sees those in paradise as having “fought the good fight of faith, and laid hold on eternal life.”
1 Timothy 6:12 ESV Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
So I think that both Paul and Wesley viewed sanctification as a journey to Christian perfection that must be completed before one can “take hold of eternal life.” Wesley, it would seem, believed this journey continues after death while one is in the bosom of Abraham.
Do we mature in Christ while in an intermediate state such as Abraham’s bosom? Or does it happen by a miracle of God when we go to heaven? Or do we mature in Christ while being cleansed by the fire of purgatory? None of these has any support of Scripture. The best and only way to mature in Christ is to live for Christ. We mature in Christ by living for others. This can’t be done in purgatory. And it can’t be done in Abraham’s bosom. We can only live for Christ while living here on the earth.
Purgatory is not really supported by Scripture. But we do have the Old Testament concept of the Messianic earthly reign of Israel over the nations. In Revelation, this would be the millennial reign of Christ. This can easily be a free-grace alternative to purgatory that has lots of backing in Scripture. Scripture teaches us about a resurrection of both the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15). As a matter of fact, there is a lot of Scriptural evidence for two types of resurrections when Christ returns to set up his kingdom.
Salvation can be described as four steps. (1) Everyone in the world was reconciled by the blood of Christ. This removes the penalty of death given in the original sin, making Christ be the second Adam. When Adam sinned, the penalty was death. But since Christ became the second Adam, everyone can be resurrected. (2) But we must become believers for the forgiveness of sins and (3) then individually overcome all our sinful habits in order to (4) go to heaven and be given eternal life. If we do not complete our journey back to the Father, we can continue to do so after the resurrection.
The millennial reign of Christ was never under consideration when Luther and Calvin formulated the Reformation doctrines. Amillennialism continued to be predominate with both Catholics and Protestants until dispensationalism came along in the nineteenth century. Millennialism was considered superstition at best, and a reason for murder at worst. Anabaptists were murdered for their belief in water baptism and millennialism.
Calvin’s first published booklet was Psychopannychia (1544). It was against Anabaptists and soul-sleep. Anabaptists did not generally believe in soul-sleep. But Calvin must have known some who did. Soul-sleep must be strongly considered for those who must continue their journey of salvation after the resurrection. For the unjust and the not-yet-fully-sanctified believers of whom God has not yet given up, there could not be heaven or hell in the intermediate state between death and the resurrection. So they must be asleep. But Luther would have had a strong presupposition against soul-sleep.
A pastor I know says he does not know the date he was “saved.” It happened gradually over a period of time. Thus as a child, there was also some unknown date in which he became accountable for his sins. Then he says, there is some unknown date in which he was saved. If he had died before that age of accountability, he would have gone to heaven. If he had died after that date, he would have gone to hell.
Later there was some other unknown date when it was reversed. If he had died before that second date, he would have gone to hell. If he had died after that second date, he would have gone to heaven. Is this really God’s plan of salvation? Or is the age of accountability a “patch” that was added to cover a problem with the Reformed system? An age of accountability is very difficult to find in Scripture.
Salvation has four parts or steps: Reconciliation, Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification.
1) Reconciliation is the restoration of the relationship between God and man which was lost by Adam. This was accomplished by Christ, the second Adam, when he died on the cross. Christ’s death was atonement for everyone’s sins. Reconciliation removes the penalty of death for sins. Christ has paid for everyone’s sins, regardless of whether they believe or even know about Christ’s sacrifice. But this is not Universalism. Enemies of God can lose their reconciliation. And you can’t receive eternal life without justification and entire sanctification.
2) Justification occurs at the start of a believer’s journey of repentance and the overcoming sinful habits. Justification is by faith. To be justified means all your sins are forgiven and you are credited with righteousness. But we must make good on that credit during our journey. After Pentecost, justification allowed for the filling of the Holy Spirit.
3) Sanctification is the journey of the believer to overcome sinful habits through the help of the Holy Spirit as we do the works of the Father. Even sanctification is a free gift because the Holy Spirit changes us on the inside. The journey must be completed before one can be given eternal life.
4) Glorification is to receive a spiritual body and eternal life.
If salvation is a journey that must be completed, the gospel of Paul and the gospel of Jesus are easily seen as being in perfect harmony. As we go through Romans, read it to see if Paul’s presentation of the gospel fits this outline.
Catholics believe that Adam’s sin is removed when an infant is baptized. John 3:5 says, “Unless one is born of water and spirit, he can't enter into the Kingdom of God.” Augustine believed this water is infant baptism.
Perhaps Augustine was somehow equating John 3:5 with Romans 5, where Paul teaches about Christ being the second Adam. In chapter 4 of this book we will study reconciliation in more detail. But let’s look a few verses now.
Romans 5:8-10 But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (9) Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we will be saved from God's wrath through him. (10) For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we will be saved by his life.
Paul says it clearly. “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God.” Everyone has sinned and was enemy of God. Since we are reconciled, we can by faith be justified. This seems to indicate the death of Christ brought reconciliation with God for everyone. Before we became believers we were reconciled. And now that we have become believers, we can be saved by living for Christ.
Romans 5:18-19 So then as through one trespass, all men were condemned; even so through one act of righteousness, all men were justified to life. (19) For as through the one man's disobedience many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one, many will be made righteous.
What does Paul mean when he says, “All men were justified to life” (verse 18)? Interpret this in the context of Christ being the second Adam. Adam was told if he eats of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, that he would die. Everyone dies. But because of Christ’s sacrifice, everyone will be made alive. The “hope in God” is for the “resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15). Everyone will be resurrected even if they have not yet been justified by faith and/or fully sanctified through faith. That is our “hope in God.” Paul says that everyone was “justified to life.” The penalty given to Adam, and thus to everyone, has been reversed for everyone. It’s not just those baptized.
In the context of Paul’s chapter on the resurrection, we read:
1 Corinthians 15:22 ESV For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Titus 2:11 ESV For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.
1 Timothy 4:10 ESV For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
1 John 2:2 ESV He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
John 12:32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
Romans 11:32 For God has shut up all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all.
The first verse (above) is in the context of Paul’s chapter on the resurrection. Paul says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (ESV 1 Corinthians 15:22). Paul talks about two types of bodies in this chapter. There are celestial (spiritual) bodies and there are terrestrial (mortal) bodies. We must mature in a terrestrial body before we can receive a celestial body. Try reading this chapter from the perspective of a free-grace alternative to purgatory.
Try reading Paul’s letters from the more Old Testament Jewish perspective that the dead are asleep and the only hope for an afterlife is the resurrection. If true, then we don’t have to assume that everyone’s eternal destiny is determined at the time of death. Try reading it from the perspective that the body we receive at the resurrection depends on how we are planted. Is the seed still sinning when it dies?
1 Corinthians 15:35-42a But someone will say, "How are the dead raised?" and, "With what kind of body do they come?" (36) You foolish one, that which you yourself sow is not made alive unless it dies. (37) That which you sow, you don't sow the body that will be, but a bare grain, maybe of wheat, or of some other kind. (38) But God gives it a body even as it pleased him, and to each seed a body of its own. (39) All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. (40) There are also celestial bodies, and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial differs from that of the terrestrial. (41) There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. (42) So also is the resurrection of the dead.
Allow me to use what I believe is the terminology of Jesus. He spoke of the wise, the foolish and the wicked, as he talked about the kingdom of God.
The wise are those who are completely sanctified (1 Thessalonians 5:23) by the Holy Spirit changing us on the inside as we do the Father’s works. The wise (saints) will have overcome all their sinful habits before they die or Christ appears. The wise will have celestial (spiritual) bodies and will live in the New Jerusalem, which is Paradise, which is the Father’s house with many rooms.
The foolish are those who still have sinful habits. Some are believers. Others are not. They will have terrestrial (mortal) bodies and will live here on the earth. Those with celestial bodies will rule over those with mortal terrestrial bodies. In other words, the Bride of Christ will reign with Christ over the nations of the earth (Revelation 2:26).
The wicked are those who deliberately become an enemy of God and/or Christ. They will not be resurrected. They are blotted from the Book of Life. They will “come to life” (be awakened) at the end of the 1000 years to be judged and thrown into the lake of fire.
Again, the terms wise, foolish, and wicked are consistently used by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as well as in many of his parables. The five foolish virgins do not have enough oil to get into the wedding banquet.
The wise (teachers) will have heavenly bodies and will reign over the foolish with earthly bodies. Those with heavenly bodies will live in the New Jerusalem, which is the Father’s house with many rooms. But they will be able to go back and forth between the New Jerusalem and the earth. The New Jerusalem will appear when Christ appears. This is just before the seven-year period of the great tribulation.
The few who are ready will get their spiritual bodies at the start of the tribulation. But the majority of the true believers in the Church are not ready for Christ to return. They must mature in the persecution of great tribulation. The resurrection and rapture is at the end of the tribulation.
Let’s back up a few verses in Paul’s resurrection chapter:
1 Corinthians 15:20-26 ESV But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (21) For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. (22) For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (23) But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (24) Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (25) For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (26) The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Christ is the firstfruits. This is a feast during the Passover week. Christ’s resurrection was on the day of firstfruits. The firstfruits of the harvest is given as an offering. Then the rest are harvested. After the resurrection of Christ, the 144,000 are firstfruits to God and the Lamb (Revelation 14:4). Then the countless number, which is the Bride of Christ, are firstfruits (2 Thessalonians 2:13, James 1:18) to people in the nations. The final harvest is that of the nations who are led to righteousness. Israel has always been the holy nation, the Bride of the Messiah, who will reign over the nations with the Messiah in order to bring righteousness to the Gentiles, which means nations. Gentile believers are grafted into Israel and share in that promise.
So the resurrections are “each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” Everyone “belongs to Christ” because of Christ’s sacrifice. Even Christ’s lost sheep hear his voice. They don’t know Christ because they are lost. But they are still his sheep. The exceptions are the wicked who reject Christ’s salvation. The wicked know Christ but choose to reject him.
Verse 23 says, “In Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” Are there exceptions to those who die because of Adam? Likewise, all are made alive because of Christ. Of course “all” does not have to mean a hundred percent. The wicked will not be resurrected. But “all” must mean the vast majority. It cannot mean the narrow gate that only few will find. The wise go through that narrow gate.
After the resurrection, Christ must reign until the “last enemy” is destroyed. And we will reign with Christ. There will be death during the millennium. In Revelation 22:2 we read, “The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” This verse is talking about the New Jerusalem. But those with spiritual (heavenly) bodies will not get sick. They will not need healing. The leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations.
In the age to come, the people of the nations will be healed when they get sick, even though they will have mortal bodies. But some will die the second death because some will reject Christ even while he is reigning. At the end of the 1000 years, Satan is released to tempt those who do not learn righteousness. They will march against Jerusalem. And they will die. After this, there will be no more death. So Christ must reign for a thousand years until the last enemy is destroyed, which is death.
Until Christ actually returns and sets up his kingdom there are going to be doctrinal differences. Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 3 and 4.
1 Corinthians 3:4-5 For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," aren't you fleshly? (5) Who then is Apollos, and who is Paul, but servants through whom you believed; and each as the Lord gave to him?
1 Corinthians 3:21-22a Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, (22) whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come.
1 Corinthians 4:5-6 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each man will get his praise from God. (6) Now these things, brothers, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to think beyond the things which are written, that none of you be puffed up against one another.
We are going to have our doctrinal differences. But with regard to the gospel itself, we need to find the truth that hides in the middle. Then we can simply agree to disagree with regard to doctrinal differences that do not directly affect the gospel. Will we continue to disagree about the doctrine of salvation itself? We need to know what to preach as we spread the gospel of the kingdom around the world in unity.
The gospel of Jesus Christ must be preached. All Christendom can be united if we can simply agree upon what gospel we are to preach. We must unite in the truth that hides in the middle. Is there a purgatory or a free-grace alternative to purgatory? That’s important. It’s part of the gospel if it’s there. Is salvation by faith alone? It’s part of the gospel if it’s true. Is salvation a journey that must be completed before we can enter the kingdom? It’s part of the gospel if it’s true.
Please read carefully Christ’s prayer for unity in the Church. Let this prayer become your prayer. Then ask yourself, does the Father answer Christ’s prayers? Is this something we can believe will happen? Is this something we can by faith act upon?
John 17:15-26 I pray not that you would take them from the world, but that you would keep them from the evil one. (16) They are not of the world even as I am not of the world. (17) Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth. (18) As you sent me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world. (19) For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. (20) Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, (21) that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. (22) The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; (23) I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you loved me. (24) Father, I desire that they also whom you have given me be with me where I am, that they may see my glory, which you have given me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world. (25) Righteous Father, the world hasn't known you, but I knew you; and these knew that you sent me. (26) I made known to them your name, and will make it known; that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them."
Today, doctrinal differences don’t seem to divide Protestant denominations the way we used to be divided. This is good. We can focus on loving one another. I also believe there is a growing respect between Catholics and Protestants. But can we truly be united without agreement on something as fundamental as the Good News about salvation?
If God really answers the prayers of Jesus, then we must consider this prayer to be a prophecy. Will the Church be caught up in the rapture before the Church is united, even as Christ and the Father are one? Most Christians don’t see how this could possibly happen. So this prophecy is naturally neglected and ignored.
Also, if this prayer really is a prophecy that must be fulfilled before the Church is caught up in the rapture, then what does that have to say about the doctrine of imminence?
What if the seven-year tribulation is not just persecution of the Church? During the first half, the two witnesses will be preaching. The 144,000 will be preaching. I believe they will have spiritual bodies and will be doing great miracles for all the world to see. What doctrine of salvation will they preach? Will the Protestants have to admit that they are wrong and the Catholics are right? Will the Catholics have to admit that they are wrong and the Protestants are right? Or will it be a truth that hides in the middle?