Saturday, November 26, 2011

What is Eternal Life? (By Dan Lash)

Dan is the Pastor of Weston Street Bible Church in Rome City, Indiana.  He may be reached at dan_lash at hotmail dot com.
We who believe in security are sometimes so motivated to find verses that support our belief that, in the process, we fail to comprehend what the Scriptures teach concerning the concept of eternal life. When we take every occurrence of the phrase “eternal life” to be a reference to eternity in heaven, with an emphasis on duration of that existence, we fail to comprehend the full meaning of this phrase in the Scriptures. In the majority of occurrences, the emphasis of the phrase “eternal life” is not the granting of a positive eternal destiny. Rather, it is the addition of the capacity for communion with God.
Let’s first understand the truth behind this life which is eternal in its duration.
The Lord Jesus, in John 17:3, gives us the following definition of eternal life:
"And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Likewise the Apostle John gives us a similar definition eternal life in I John 5:20: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”
Eternal life is the capacity to commune with God. In the Garden of Eden, humanity forfeited this purpose for which it was created, i.e. to enjoy the communion of God. All people since Adam are now brought into the world possessed only with a nature and perspective which is incapable of communion with God. (Romans 8:7) God’s ultimate goal in saving us is to bring us to the place where we can commune with the perspective of God.
Now, make no mistake about it, believing on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior does guarantee one’s eternal well being. The following verses identify for us the duration of this gift of eternal life:
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
John 5:24 " Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.
Believing upon Jesus as your Savior produces a life which is eternal in its duration because it bears the image of God at the core of its being. When a person is born again they are now in possession of a life which is eternal in duration, because the new person on the inside is made in the image of God in righteousness and true holiness. (Eph. 4:24) This new person is now the believer’s eternal identity before God. However, just because that person exists on the inside doesn’t mean that this new person is automatically directing the ambitions of the believer. When a believer is operating by the power of a mind renewed in the Scriptures, that believer is said to be experiencing eternal life.
A great deal of confusion can result in our interpretation of Scripture if, in every context, we focus only on the duration of eternal life and not the purpose for that life. For example, in 1 Timothy 6:12, Paul exhorts Timothy to “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.” Does this suggest that maybe Timothy’s security is not yet certain? If we define eternal life as eternity in heaven, then we might conclude from this text that Paul was calling Timothy’s security into question. However, if “laying hold of eternal life” speaks of Timothy’s walking consistently in communion with God, then Paul’s exhortation to “laying hold on eternal life” in no way challenges the doctrine of security.
Consider also Galatians 6:7-8.
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”
Once again, if we take this above occurrence of everlasting life to be a reference to eternal existence in heaven, then, according to this context, eternal existence in heaven is reaped as a result of sowing to the Spirit. And that would mean that a home in heaven is secured on the basis of the choices made after we are saved. But if eternal life in this context is experiencing communion with God then security would still be consistent with the meaning of this verse.
This approach to the concept of eternal life also better accommodates some of those passages in I John, which, on the surface, present a challenge to grace teaching. For example, 1 John 3:14-17 says,
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
Is this above context teaching us that it is impossible for a believer to hate his brother?
No, not at all. Verse 17 of this context is clearly an example of a believer hating another believer. In the Scriptures, hatred is not necessarily viewing another with disdain or wishing harm upon another. Hatred is often as passive as neglect, as demonstrated by this context. If eternal life in this context means eternity in heaven, then the person who fails to meet the needs of a brother or sister in Christ needs to question whether or not they are on their way to heaven. If, however, we understand eternal life to be communing with the perspective of God, then this context need not call into question a person’s eternal destiny; rather, this passage calls into question a person’s communion with the Father. The primary purpose of the epistle of I John is precisely this test of fellowship, a fellowship which I John refers to as eternal life.
A believer is experiencing communion with the Father when God’s perspective as gleaned from the Scriptures is serving as that believer’s functional frame of reference. Being saved does not automatically establish God’s perspective in the heart of the believer. That takes diligence and consistency in the application of Scripture. When the believer consistently judges events in his life from God’s perspective, it can be said that they have laid hold on eternal life. Like the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:12, “I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” When the Father gives us to Christ in the New Birth, Jesus is said to have laid hold of us for eternal life. When God’s perspective becomes the believer’s functioning frame of reference, that believer is said to have laid hold of eternal life.

Monday, November 7, 2011

President's Letter -November 2011

                                                                                                                     November 1, 2011  


Let me tell you that the FGA 2011 National Conference last month in Phoenix, Arizona was a tremendous success as we honored the Lord.

The presentations, including the plenary and the many wonderful workshops, went very well. We heard many inspiring messages on the topic of grace theology as it intersects living the Christian life. Many appreciated Dr. Mike Stallard as he cleared the air of the charge that we who believe in grace do not take sin seriously. Dr. Mike Cocoris also clarified the need for obedience and living a life of consecration. Dr. Dave Anderson, Dr. Paul Benware, and Pastor Bob Kerrey each did a fine job expositing the scriptures and providing principles by which to live and love.

There were many ministry and educational booths to see and books to buy. Many commented on enjoying the ability to see old friends and spend some time getting reconnected and caught up. The FGA banquet provided the opportunity to present the Trophy of Grace Award to Trevor McIlwain for his faithful service over the past 50 years. We also had as our guest speaker Dr. John Cross, President of Good Seed Ministries, from Canada. His creative use of props and multimedia made the evening quite special and unique.

This was the first time we have held the conference outside of Dallas. It seemed to work quite well. The hotel met all of our needs and the free shuttle from the airport provided some additional savings. A “BIG Thank You” goes to Sam Sacco who headed up the conference this year. It was wonderful! We hope to see many of you next year’s national conference.

Like many of you, I have been teaching and preaching the grace message for many years. It seems baffling to me that the church, after 2000 years does not seem to understand such a basic, simple, and important concept such as free grace. But then I remember that the early church fought the same battle, such as the Apostle Paul with different theological formations of Judaizers. The Apostle John as well dealt with insipient Gnostic teaching that would rob believers of the grace of God. The Apostolic Fathers all but forgot the grace of God and salvation by faith alone. And of course, the Roman Catholic Church for hundreds of years held grace ransom by works and denied the love of God to His people. The reformation, for all that it did for the church, also did not do enough to free itself from a theology of assurance that was less than fully biblical. And so today we see many of the same errors and divergence in theology that has always been upon the church. So I tell myself--- game on!

The FGA exists to help educate, encourage and connect you so that you can be in the game. But remember, it is not a game.  As C.S. Lewis reminds us, “Every square inch of the universe is claimed by God and counter claimed by Satan.  But also remember--the battle is His and the battle is won, and we have the joy of doing His work. 

Serving Him with you
Until He comes for us,

Dr. Fred Chay
President, Free Grace Alliance

Friday, November 4, 2011

Progress of Revelation?

By Dr. Roger Fankhauser, FGA Executive Council member and the pastor of Burleson Bible Church in Burleson, Texas.  Dr. Fankhauser can be reached at rsfankhauser at bellsouth dot net.
A great puzzle pops up when we think about John’s purpose statement: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31). The puzzle is, what about the cross and resurrection?
My disclaimer: I am not trying to tackle the so-called “cross-less gospel” (I don’t like the label, but it identifies the problem). I simply want to point out five ideas that, to me, connect the death and resurrection with the many passages in John prior to John 19 that say “whosoever believes” and don’t mention the resurrection!
1. The death and resurrection are not “signs” that Jesus performed (20:30). The signs He performed confirm His identity, but are not part and parcel of the gospel. So, the fact that John doesn’t identify the cross and resurrection as “signs” doesn’t change his argument.
2. John’s record of the death and resurrection account occurs before the purpose statement, so by the time the reader gets to the purpose statement in chapter twenty, he or she would know the whole story.
3. The theological truth “whosoever believes in me has eternal life” is timeless. Early in the story, John identified Jesus, through the words of John the Baptist, as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” By the end of the story, we know how He took away the sin of the world (e.g., “It is finished”, John 19:30). The progress of revelation adds content to the identity of “Me”. The fact that neither Jesus as the speaker nor John as the writer add the resurrection in the “whosoever believes” passages reflects that these crucial events had not yet happened in history and John accurately recorded the pre-crucifixion events and conversations as they unfolded. Even though John was written after the resurrection, he recorded events and conversations that happened before the resurrection.
4. The disciples did not understand Jesus when He did tell them He must die (e.g., John 14:28-29, 16:16-20, 20:8-9). To require faith in a future event – one they didn’t grasp - seems unreasonable. By the time we come to the end of chapter twenty, however, they do believe in His resurrection (e.g., John 20:8, 29)
5. Post resurrection, Paul connects Jesus’ identification as the “son of God” with the resurrection (Rom. 1:4). He also connects the gospel the Corinthians “received” (a synonym for belief, John 1:12) and the death and resurrection when he says is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures… and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-4). The burial and post-resurrection appearances confirm the death and resurrection. I know some take the passage as referring to sanctification issues (“if you hold fast”), but I don’t believe it is limited to sanctification – it is both / and.
Including the death and resurrection of Jesus in the description of the “Me” of “whosever believes in Me” does not violate the message of John. It simply recognizes the progress of revelation, even within the book of John, that adds with clarity the story of the death and resurrection.