Eternal Security: Once Saved, Always Saved?

The following is a paper I wrote in Bible college on the subject of eternal security. I think I could do a better job on it now, but it’s still pretty decent. The footnotes aren’t included in this version. 

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One of the most debated doctrines among Christians has been the permanency of salvation: can a Christian lose their salvation, or is their salvation secure? This debate goes all the way back to the early church, and shortly after takes its most intense and scholarly from in the infamous Arminian verses Calvinism feud. Rejection of eternal security “is an inseparable part of the Arminian system, flowing necessarily from their views of election, of the design and effect of Christ’s death, and of the sufficient grace and free will.”

This paper intends to reveal that eternal security is indeed a biblical doctrine and that it is also an integral part of Christian living.

Those who hold to an Arminian point of view tend to make two prominent arguments against eternal security. They are as follows:

  • God will surely never leave you, but you can leave Him.
  • The doctrine of eternal security means you can act any way you want to after you are saved because your salvation is secure no matter what.

There is also a plethora of scriptures that are used to “prove” that salvation can be lost. While we cannot deal with all of them here, we shall take a look at the above statements and a few key verses.

The first comment used says that one can willingly leave God and walk away from salvation. The verse used here is almost always John 10:28-29, which states “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand”. Note that Jesus only speaks of salvation in one-way terms: God is faithful. Arminian thinkers point out what was not said by Jesus, that people can choose to walk away from God.

The problem with this thinking is twofold: (1) assuming that salvation is a two-way street and (2) assuming that a Christian might walk away from God. Concerning the first problem, the Bible makes a strong case for salvation being much more one-way than two-way. Calvinists do not deny the free will of man. They hold to the truth that “whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. However, Calvinists also rightly uphold the doctrine of divine election – that is, God sovereignly chooses some for salvation. This “predestination” is revealed most clearly in the conversion of Saul. It seems obvious that Saul’s salvation was a direct result of blatant interference by God. While Calvinists sometimes falsely ignore free will, Arminians often falsely ignore predestination. Both doctrines are in the Bible and we must accept them both without diminishing the other. This is all to say that viewing salvation in solely two-way terms is not biblical.

Concerning the second problem, the Bible demonstrates that true Christians do not walk away from God. The key verse here is 1 John 2:19, which says “they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us”. Contextually, this verse is speaking of a Christian community. John is saying that truly saved Christians will continue in their faith. Christians who walk away from the faith were never Christians at all. This truth is “plain” to see.

Moving to Arminian’s second objection to eternal security, we deal with the issue of holiness. It is often stated that eternal security is a license for Christians to behave however they choose. This, however, is a gross misunderstanding of both the eternal security position and the mirrored position of scripture. Concerning this very issue, the apostle Paul asks “what shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2) Essentially, Paul is saying that the possession of God’s grace is not license to sin, but rather just the opposite. Being Christians means we have put away our old nature and put on Christ. Eternal security, and salvation in general, carries with it the responsibility of Christ-like living and continual sanctification and repentance of sin.

Of note, the phrase “once saved always saved” is not preferable. Though it is accurate, the phraseology carries with it a negative connotation. The Calvinistic phrase “perseverance of the saints” is better suited because eternal security, at its very core, is the belief that all Christians will continue with Christ until their dying day. Salvation, though a one time event, is also continued through life. Thus, “once saved always saved” is a less complete and flattering message for the biblical truth that true Christians endure to the end.

The Arminian belief that salvation is not eternally secure also seems problematic when lined up with the doctrines of regeneration, new birth, and Holy Spirit possession. Regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit at conversion whereby the believer is made to be a new spiritual creature. Scripture declares “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the former things have passed away, and all things are made new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). If one can lose salvation, then this “new creature” would again have to die. And then, if one came back to the faith, the creature must be made new again. This is illogical, and the Bible nowhere indicates that regeneration is reversed or happens more than once.

Strongly linked to regeneration is new birth. Jesus said “truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In the following verse, Nicodemus asks skeptically if a man can climb back into his mother’s womb to be born again. Obviously, that would be absurd. A man is born once physically and once spiritually. To believe that spiritual birth can be reversed or repeated is as silly as saying a born man can climb back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time.

Lastly, the New Testament clearly demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is the possession of all believers. It is clearly states that there is “one baptism” of the Holy Spirit for each Christian (Ephesians 4:5). Again, this cannot be reversed or repeated. The Spirit is also called a “seal” until the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13). Surely this seal (literally, down payment) secures salvation eternally.

To conclude, it is the overwhelming evidence of scripture that salvation for the Christian is eternal. May the church find this truth and hold to it, as it is a treasure to be enjoyed.

Six Ways People Choose Their Beliefs

Mark Mittelberg wrote an interesting book called Choosing Your Faith, where he discusses the common ways by which people choose their religious beliefs. He outlines six common ways people choose their faith. I have summarized them below for your interest.

  1. Relativism: truth is a personal choice. This mindset adheres to “what’s true for you may not be what’s true for me”, a common way of looking at reality in our modern world. Often it is declared that there is no such thing as absolute truth, but rather truth is relative to each person. It is a common way of thinking among many post-moderns. In terms of faith, this usually plays out as whatever religion works for you is the right one for you.
  2. Tradition: truth is what you’ve always known. Many of us have grown up with religious parents, and we simply believe what they have believed – no questions asked. This approach values what has been historically accepted as truth over what current thinking, evidence, or feelings might suggest. Faith is passed on from generation to generation simply because that is what we have always done and believed.
  3. Authority: truth is forced upon you. Some religions use a dictator-like approach to passing on the faith to the next generation, where it is simply forced along regardless of one’s will. In some extreme cases, those who deny that faith are essentially kicked-out of their community or sometimes even killed.
  4. Intuition: truth is what you feel. Some people believe something to be true not based on facts but on instinct. Even in the absence of evidence, something could be considered true merely because of a feeling or gut instinct. This approach to faith means that truth may be remain constant but not necessarily be found in the same way by different people. Intuition, it would be thought, is to be above factual information or logic.
  5. Mystical: truth is what God tells me. Getting a message from God is what is called “divine revelation”, and some people choose their faith through this method. They have some kind of mystical experience where they feel that God has spoken to them, and therefore they believe whatever was revealed in that moment. This can be through dreams, visions, voices, ethereal experiences etc.
  6. Evidence: truth is what logic and reason support. The final way people choose their faith is by examining what evidence there is for a given truth claim. They evaluate beliefs to see if they are logical, reasonable, and if there is evidence to back them up. This method places a high emphasis on thought and a low emphasis on feelings.

I would suggest that the wisest approach would be the final one. Each other approach is flawed in some form or another. Truth cannot be different for each person; this is a self-contradictory claim. Even to say “there is no absolute truth” is itself a claim of absolute truth, thereby debunking the whole concept of relative truth.

Additionally, while tradition may not always be bad, it can be if the tradition being held is one that is harmful or untrue. It is good and healthy to ask questions and not simply adopt tradition without first thinking critically. Traditions and common beliefs should be tested, not for the sake of stirring up controversy, but for an honest, humble search for truth.

The authoritative view as well is weak, since forcing someone to believe something does not make it true. Truth never changes regardless if it is forced to be believed or adopted willfully. One should not simply believe something because it is forced upon them, but rather assess the belief and think for themselves.

Relying on intuition is also unwise. Sometimes gut instincts are right, but other times they are wrong. Our feelings are inconsistent and unstable, while truth is neither of those things. Therefore we cannot trust our own intuition to lead us into truth.

The mystical approach does not take into account that spiritual experiences may not always be from God, but rather from an untrustworthy spiritual source. It is next to impossible to determine if a given experience was truly from God based on the experience alone unless there is a set standard to compare it to.

This brings us to the final approach of evidence. The reality of a set standard of truth means we have a way to measure mystical experiences. It also will keep us from allowing our unstable emotions to lead us astray, gives us a way to test our traditional understandings, provides an un-changing source of truth, and allows us to think for ourselves what we should or should not believe. Therefore choosing our beliefs should be done in a way that engages the mind and entails a thoughtful and careful examination of evidence. Using reason and logic in this way, we can form beliefs that have a strong foundation to stand on and are more likely to represent an accurate view of reality.

What does it mean to be “gospel-centered”?

We hear a lot these days about being “gospel-centered”. A search of that phrase on Google returns over 9 million results, as well as over 1,200 hits on Amazon. Many of these resources – books, websites, and articles in particular – have been produced within the past couple of years. Why this emphasis on gospel centrality, and what does it even mean?

As I understand it, being gospel-centered is a worldview that is presented by the Scriptures whereby all of life is seen in it’s connection to the good news of Jesus. Essentially, it means we look at the world through the lens of the gospel, giving us an accurate understanding of reality. The opposite of gospel-centrality for the Christian would be thinking of the good news of Jesus as nothing more than a way to get to heaven. Once converted, it would seem, the gospel is to be abandoned for other doctrines and growth. This may all sound very theoretical and intangible, so let’s take a subject and apply these two views to bring some additionally clarity.

Let’s say, for example, you are a Christian struggling with materialism. From a non gospel-centered view, you might acknowledge that the Bible condemns greed, coveting, and over-dependence on material things and respond by trying to willfully overcome your materialistic habits. What you might notice in this view is that the gospel is seen as good for becoming a Christian but not for helping us overcome sin. The gospel-centered view, on the other hand, would say that because of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, we are set free from material cravings, forgiven for our coveting, and commissioned to using things as a means to glorify God and serve others. In this approach, the gospel is central to how we assess and address the situation.

So to be gospel-centered means we connect everything in life to Jesus’ redeeming work. The gospel is like the centre hub of the multi-spoked wheel of life, the crux on which all things turn and exist. Seeing things this way, the gospel is good not only for the afterlife but current life as well.

If this is what being gospel-centered means, why does there seem to be a surge in this kind of thinking? The basic reason is that much of Christianity, especially in the West, has lost its focus on the gospel. We have not altogether forsaken the gospel (for the most part), but we have made it simply one topic among many. It is not treated as supreme or central. As the statistics would indicate, this has caused a massive dropoff among the younger generation of the Church. In my opinion, it has also lead to unhealthy Christians who value any number of Biblical topics as much as they do the gospel of Christ.

It has been said that the first generation treasures the gospel, the second one assumes it, and the third one loses it. We seem to be in the transition from second the third generation, where many current Christian teachers do not make the gospel central or explicit, instead assuming the next generation already knows it. However, the up-and-comers miss the gospel altogether and adopt a “Christianity” that is more like vague religion than Christ above all.

Some Christian leaders are seeing this disturbing trend and fighting back with a return toward gospel-centeredness.When we begin to allow the gospel to inform our preaching, our churches, our lives, and our beliefs, Jesus returns to his place of prominence and God’s glory is restored to proper order. There also comes a rush of sin-conquering power, as the Christian life was meant to be lived as a daily walk with Jesus, not a momentary conversion followed by virtual abandonment of him. Only in the gospel is there power to change lives. A strong return to gospel-centeredness is just the thing this next generation needs to discover real faith in the living Savior Jesus and transform the nations for the glory of God.

Jesus in the Old Testament

One common misconception regarding the Bible is that only the New Testament has Jesus present in its pages. The Old Testament, it is thought, speaks of God in a general sense, but Jesus only really shows up after his birth in the gospels. This, however, is seen to be untrue as even Jesus himself affirmed that the Old Testament’s primary purpose was to point to his coming:

  • Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Jesus appears in the Old Testament in two primary ways. (1) Jesus shows up in a literal, visible sense prior to his incarnation. These pre-birth appearances of Jesus are known as Christophanies, or “appearances of the Christ”. (2) Jesus’ presence is seen in a less tangible sense through typology and foreshadows, meaning that certain people and events represent Jesus symbolically in an incomplete, yet significant, way.

1. Christophanies

A Christophany is when Jesus appears prior to his incarnation (human birth). In most of these instances, he is referred to as “the angel of the Lord”. We can infer that Jesus is “the angel of the Lord” since on many occasions this figure is also identified as God. Angels are not God, but Jesus is. Also, “the angel of the Lord “ differs from the phrase “an angel of the Lord”, which the Bible also uses. Saying “the angel” instead of “an angel” gives obvious importance that this particular being is distinct from and superior to the other angels.

Jesus appears in a Christophany somewhere around 20 times in the Old Testament (an exact number is difficult to determine since not all instances are definitively Jesus). Here are just three instances:

  • Genesis 22:11-18

[11] But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” [12] He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” [13] And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. [14] So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” [15] And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven [16] and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, [17] I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, [18] and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Notice in verse 12 that the angel says Abraham has not spared his son Isaac from “me”, something God asked of Abraham (Genesis 22:1-2). Therefore, this angel is referring to himself as the person who gave the initial command, and thereby claiming to be God.

  • Exodus 3:1-6

[1] Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. [2] And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. [3] And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” [4] When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” [5] Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” [6] And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Again we see here the angel of the Lord being referred to as “the LORD” and “God”. This is a pre-birth appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Isaiah 6:1-5

[1] In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. [2] Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. [3] And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” [4] And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. [5] And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

This description alone is not enough to ascribe it to Jesus with certainty. However, the disciple John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, records in John 12:41 that the figure Isaiah saw in this vision was Jesus.

2. Types / Foreshadows

A type or foreshadow is a person or event that represents Jesus or his ministry in some way. It is a precursor to Jesus, an expectation of his arrival. There are many figures and events in the Old Testament that are designed to point to Jesus. Below are just a few examples.

People:

Moses Jesus
  • Life threatened by mass slaughtering of babies
  • Life threatened by mass slaughtering of babies
  • Escaped murder in Egypt
  • Escaped murder in Egypt
  • Mediator between God and his people
  • Mediator between God and his people
  • Fasted for 40 days
  • Fasted for 40 days
  • Was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter
  • Was adopted by Joseph
  • Performed miracles
  • Performed miracles
  • Forsook priviledged position to suffer among his people
  • Forsook privileged position to suffer among his people
Joshua Jesus
  • Name means “God will save his people from their sins”
  • Name means “God will save his people from their sins”
  • Delivered God’s people to a promised land
  • Delivered God’s people to heavenly promised land
Joseph Jesus
  • Rejected by family and sold for price of slave
  • Rejected by friend and sold for price of slave
  • Came from lowly state to sit at right hand of great ruler
  • Came from lowly state to sit and right hand of God
  • Was not recognized by his own family
  • Was not recognized by his own people (Israel)
Melchizedek Jesus
  • Only person to be both king and high priest
  • Is both a king and high priest
Boaz Jesus
  • Righteous man who is a redeemer
  • Righteous man who is the redeemer
Hosea Jesus
  • Purchased bride back from whoredom
  • Purchased bride (the Church) back from whoredom

Events:

Passover Jesus
  • God’s wrath comes to those who are not covered by the lambs blood
  • God’s wrath comes to those who are not covered by Jesus’ (the great Lamb’s) blood
High Priest Rituals Jesus
  • Mediator between God and man
  • Mediator between God and man
Sacrificial System Jesus
  • Shed animal blood to make atonement for sin
  • Shed own blood to make atonement for sin
Abraham offers Isaac Jesus
  • Father (almost) sacrifices son on a hill
  • Father God sacrifices Son on a hill
The Ark Jesus
  • People saved from God’s wrath through one man
  • People saved from God’s wrath through one man


I have an issue with my church – what now?

For whatever reason, lately a topic of conversation among some Christians I know has been how to handle having a critical opinion of something a church is doing. This is something that is probably a universal issue for believers, for I have never met a follower of Jesus who has not one single complaint about his or her church. In fact, it is unfortunate to say that some Christians have formed a downright critical spirit towards the Church. While this kind of negative attitude is to be rejected as sinful, there certainly are valid concerns that are worthwhile to be shared. However, simply having a conviction about a matter does automatically give one license to air their opinion without carefulness. Behaviour such as this is destructive and a tool used by the enemy to sow discord and division among God’s people. So the question begs to be asked, how does one voice criticism in a healthy way?

The Bible lays out certain principles that should be followed in cases such as these. Each one must be carefully adhered to in order to bring about peace, growth, and life in both churches and church-goers. This post in no way covers fully the various factors and outcomes that may be seen in situations such as these. More specific guidelines may be sought in the comments sections. However, as overall general rules, let’s briefly examine a few of these principles one at a time to give some framework to operate from.

1. The heart is deceitfully wicked. We must first acknowledge that our sin leads us to blindness, judgmentalism, and hypocrisy (Luke 6:37-42). Often we are quick to point out the flaws in others while ignoring our own personal issues. This can cause us to be overly critical of the church without having valid concerns. Taking time to bathe the matter in prayer, seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit, and asses the motives of the heart will go a long way towards killing an overly critical heart.

2. There are two sides to every story. As humans we are prone to jump to conclusions, having neither all the necessary information nor giving what information we do have a fair evaluation. We cannot help but see things from our own limited perspective. This is not sinful but it should be kept in mind. Often the decisions and direction of a church makes more sense when we give consideration to all of the relevant factors (Proverbs 18:17).

3. Pursue constructive criticism. Sometimes it is not the complaint itself that causes disruption but the way in which it is shared. It is possible to have the same issue shared in a way that is helpful and shared in a way that is unhelpful. The Bible commands Christians to make every effort to live at peace with all people (Hebrews 12:14) and to speak in such a way that it builds up and not tears down (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Practically, this would mean speaking humbly, showing respect to those with differing opinions, and perhaps offering one or two solutions to your perceived problem.

4. Should you feel the need to confront, do it Biblically. The culture of technology has in some ways forged a generation who does not know how to handle confrontation. In teaching Christians how to confront one another (Matthew 18:15-17), we can glean some principles from Jesus on how share criticism with the church. Three crucial points can be seen. One would be the absolute avoidance of any gossip; we must never be free with our criticism to others while neglecting to share them with the relevant people. Second is the related need to keep confrontation private. There are proper settings for public criticism but they are extremely rare. Third is the need to be open and accountable with complaints. Never are we to take anonymous pot-shots through emails or unsigned notes.

5. Conclude the matter. Regardless of the outcome of a confrontation, find some way to bring some closure the matter. In some cases this will be agreeing to disagree. If so, explicitly state this is the result and what your subsequent action will be (anywhere from a silent disagreement to leaving the church, depending on the seriousness of the issue). In other scenarios, the church may look further into the issue and get back to you. It is also possible that a church may receive criticism as accurate and make necessary changes. Whatever the result, it is healthy for both sides to “close the book” on the problem so that unnecessary strife can be avoided.

6. Pray for your church and its leaders. It is no easy task to lead the church. Nor is it always easy to trust the direction of the church to others. Both church leaders and church members are sinners and in need of God’s grace. We ought to seek the good of one another as much as possible and pray for each other’s well being. Give no room for bitterness, pride, or vengeance. Remain humble and loving and trust the Good Shepherd to keep watch over his own.

How relevant is the gospel in North American culture?

We sometimes hear people use the language of making the gospel relevant. Christians know already that the gospel is relevant to all people whether they realize it or not. Evangelism is not making the gospel relevant, but rather showing people how the gospel is already relevant to their lives. There’s no debating this.

So the challenge of evangelism is not in making Christian truths seem more important, but instead helping a person see how these truths are important specifically for them. In other words, the evangelism battle in not fought in the arena of truth, but in the arena of culture.

What this means practically is that Christians must be students of culture; or, at the very least, not naive of it. We should have a basic understanding of who people are around us, what they struggle with, what influences and inspires them, what strikes fear into their hearts, what their thoughts are like in quiet moments. When we understand people (ie. culture) this way, it becomes easier to show the relevance of Jesus to them.

This has been on my mind recently, especially in light of music and movies. If you are familiar at all with either of these media outlets, it should be fairly simple to profile out the North American culture. Follow the lyrics of music or basic storylines of movies and they lead you right to what makes people tick. Armed with that kind of knowledge, it should make our task as gospel-sharers that much easier.

As the risk of making it too simple, I see the same basic theme crop up in music and movies: Life sucks, so do what you gotta do to make it better. Of course, this exists in many forms. The “life sucks” side of this equation might look like any of the following:

  • I’m a loner / I’m irrelevant
  • Life seems empty
  • No one cares about me
  • The world is not fair
  • I’ve experienced tragic loss
  • I’ve been abused
  • My life has no purpose

Of course, all of these feelings/thoughts are a result of the fall. Sin has caused God’s perfect creation to be tainted. Life was never meant to be this way, and so that inner feeling of “it shouldn’t be like this” that most everyone has is bang on. However, now these problems must be dealt with. This is the “do what you gotta do to make it better” portion, which often looks a lot like this:

  • Do something ridiculous, dangerous, or illogical to make yourself famous
  • Party hard / have fun
  • Get rich
  • Numb the pain (ie. distract yourself)
  • Have lots of sex

Again, this may be oversimplifying it, but the basic point can’t be missed. Our world is broken, people know it, and they want relief. This is the perfect setting for the gospel! How much more relevant can the Saviour be? What is terribly sad is that our culture keeps doing all the wrong things to fix the problem, somehow hoping that this time it will work. Yet it only makes things worse. People are stuck on a downward spiral of misery that they can’t escape, and in trying only get themselves deeper still.

Even worse, movies and music conveniently overlook the negative consequences of trying to make life better with solutions that don’t work. So what we have is modern-day youth culture. One big party on the surface, but deep pain underneath. And the places they look to for guidance – namely, movies and music – aren’t offering them much long-term hope.

Add to this bleak situation the shallowness of relationships thanks to social media, and it’s easy to get pessimistic. People are more connected than ever, yet often feel more alone than ever.

Friends, let’s show them a better way. Let’s show them Jesus! Though Jesus does not fix every problem in life, he does promise the be there, to help us make it through, and offers a tangible promise of a future hope that you can take to the bank. Christians, I encourage you to listen to people around you. There are more opportunities to share the gospel with people than we think, if we would only listen to the subtle hints that “life sucks”. It’s moments like those that are open doors for the gospel.

Shovelling Out the Barn

The book of Proverbs is my favourite book of the Bible because of its intensely practical nature. Often it communicates profound truths in simple, one-sentence analogies. Proverbs 14:4, one of my favourite verses in the whole Bible, is one such example. It states:

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”

At first glance this may not seem particularly interesting or inspiring. Yet it explains a lot of what life is really like. The point of this verse is that hard and unpleasant work is part of living a productive, abundant life. Consider the farmer who is behind the story of Proverbs 14:4. He is a simple man wanting to make his way in the world. He needs to provide for himself (and his family if he has one), and to do so he will need crops to eat and sell. Realizing this, he acquires an ox to plow the fields for him. Seems easy enough, right?

Yet what the farmer notices next is that the ox requires a lot of maintenance. He must be fed and not soon later makes quite a stinky mess in the barn! So, the farmer must work hard to maintain his ox, keep a clean and sanitary barn, so that the ox will help him produce the abundant crops he desires.

This is the basic point of the proverb: abundance comes at the cost of hard labour. Too many people wish to have “abundant crops” without putting in the effort it takes to get it. We want riches without having to earn it, a spouse without having to make personal sacrifices, a job without having to inconvenience us, a car without all the attached maintenance, and the list goes on. This is often true of young people early in life, who look at older folks and want that kind of life without realizing it took that person 30 years to get there. The pursuit of many people are for shortcuts to get them further ahead in life by benefiting from the work other people have invested.

Proverbs 14:4 reminds us that life does not work this way. God has designed it so that we must humble ourselves, be willing to work hard and get dirty, and make an honest living all to his glory and our joy. The truth is that earning money takes hard work, loving a spouse takes self-sacrifice, working a job is inconvenient, and owning a car requires extra maintenance. In short, the ox you desire to make you happier will also make life messy. The point is not to run like a coward from the hard work life throws at you, nor is it to try and find every shortcut to make things easier; rather, the point is to know that everything worth anything requires something, and we should be willing to pay the cost and put in the hard work in order to reap the rewards. Pick up your shovel and start cleaning out your barn.

For reflection:

  • In what areas of my life am I neglecting to put in the hard work to see it flourish? (Ex. faith, relationships, work, studies, health, ministry)
  • What causes me to be lazy or fearful of working hard in these areas?
  • Take a moment to repent of your sin and ask God for help and strength to take on the responsibilities you should.

Love Your Wife

I remember back when Sarah and I were engaged our friends and family thew us an engagement party. One of the things incorporated into the event was a scrapbook that had a page dedicated to marital advice everyone could write in. This seems somewhat humorous to me now, considering more than half of the people present weren’t married themselves, not to mention that marital advice-giving was hardly kept contained to one page in a scrapbook.

What I found interesting was that the advice all seemed very inconsistent. Some would say you need to spend time with your spouse doing the hobbies they like; others would say you should let them have their time alone to do it. Some said the key to a happy marriage was spending time together; others said it meant not being too dependent on one another. Ideas concerning how to control the budget, manage vacations, incorporate immediate families, and share friends all varied. It seemed that no one really agreed on how to build a successful marriage.

In addition, resources from the Christian world also seemed to conflict with one another. While highlighting the differences between men and women, some authors said it is the man’s job to speak more like a woman, while another said the woman needs to learn how to interpret her husband.

Through it all I have come to a one sentence conclusion for all this information that beats them all. Love your wife. This simple command comes out of Ephesians 5:25 and Colossians 3:19. The passage in Ephesians stresses the sacrificial nature of such love, while the Colossians passage focuses on kindness.

The key truth I wish to highlight here, however, is neither the sacrificial nature nor the gentle nature of a husbands love, though certainly both are worthy of attention. Rather, I wish to emphasize the word your. Husbands, love your wife.

The reason all the marital advice often conflicts is because each person has learned how to love their spouse. They have figured out what works for them. However, what works for one couple may be disastrous for another. The key is not so much in the specific advice as it is what lies behind that advice: figure out who your spouse is, what they need, what makes them feel loved, and then do it.

This is the thinking behind the popular Love Languages series from Dr. Gary Chapman. In these helpful teachings, spouses are encouraged to learn how their partner best receives love in one of five main ways: physical touch, gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, and acts of service. While everyone enjoys all of these, certain ones will resonate more with certain people. So, the husband must find out how his wife best receives love and then love her in that fashion.

I believe that many marriages would thrive if spouses simply loved one another. Not love who their spouse was 20 years ago, not love the imaginary perfect spouse in their mind, not love someone else’s spouse, but rather love their spouse as he or she is right now. This takes effort, investing time to learn and study your partner to figure out how to best love them. This love must be specific love, meeting the real (not perceived) needs of a partner in ways that they consider helpful.

Scripturally, the call is focused on the husband to love his wife. This does not mean that a wife does not need to love her husband. But particular emphasis and responsibility is placed on the shoulders of the husband. No matter the state of your marriage, how difficult it may be, or even the presence of sin, husbands are called to initiate love. Any marriage can be healthy and strong when husbands love their wives, and vice versa.

A few ideas to try out:

  • Take a personality quiz. They say opposites attract, but after marriage, opposites irritate. Figure out your personality differences and try to understand where your partner is coming from.
  • Learn each other’s history. Because everyone has had different experiences, we all interpret life from a different angle. Take the time to share and learn about one another.
  • Ask questions. Get to know one another and figure out how each other thinks. This will help you better know how to love your partner.
  • Read The Five Languages of Love by Gary Chapman and work through the discussion questions.
  • Stay engaged. We often forget that people change over time. You may not really know who your partner is anymore. Be present both physically and mentally in your relationship so as to keep up to date.
  • Repent of sin. Sometimes conflict is not a matter of differences but of selfishness.
  • Be proactive. Don’t always assume you can love your partner on the fly, because life gets busy. Figure out a system to regularly show love to your spouse in practical ways.

Character and Competence

When I look at figures from the Bible and other admirable Christian leaders throughout history, there really seems to be two distinct characteristics that define them: character and competence. This may be oversimplifying it, but I’m not sure the basic truth can be overlooked. Any man or woman that God has used in positions of leadership (be it high-profile or low-profile) possessed both strong character and competence in their God-given tasks.

Look at Joseph, for example. Joseph was faithful to God for many years despite being hated by his brothers and being horrendously mistreated. If anyone had the right to complain about life not being fair, it would be Joseph. Yet his integrity remained intact despite every obstacle that came his way. God was gracious enough to raise Joseph up to save Egypt and literally the entire surrounding world in the face of severe drought. Additionally, Joseph demonstrated a knack for leadership, organizing the entire Egyptian empire in such a way that it became the most powerful nation on earth. Joseph had both character and competence.

Others come to mind as well. Nehemiah was a man who stood firmly for God while successfully leading a complicated building project. Joshua walked with God and functioned as a gifted army general. Esther demonstrated great trust in God on her way to saving an entire race from genocide. Paul was as passionate a Christian as there ever was and oversaw an amazingly successful church planting movement. Outside of the Bible, figures like Saint Patrick and Charles Spurgeon also come to mind. And, of course, Jesus tops them all as the sinless Savior who instigated the largest and fastest-growing movement in the history of the world.

The point is that effective leaders have both character and competence. They don’t need to be perfect (thankfully!), but they do need to have a genuine and growing walk with the Lord. And, they must also possess certain abilities that help them achieve the tasks to which God has called them. To have either one without the other kills the effectiveness of a leader.

It should be noted, however, that character precedes competence. They are not on an equal plane. If a leader has all the needed skills but has no character, they are not ready for Christian leadership. It seems that the typical pattern is that humble people are the ones God raises to positions of leadership, even if they don’t initially have all of the skills. God is the one who equips each leader with what they need to do his will, and the first thing any leader needs is the power of God. That comes through character.

In one sense, we are all leaders. God has a calling for each one of us to fulfill. Don’t just think of leaders as those with big names, big ministries, big educations, and big resources. Any humble servant God can use to effect change. I fact, he desires to do so!

A few questions for reflection:

  • What are the tasks to which God has called me? List some of them.
  • Do I spend more time sharpening my character or my competence? How can I rightly focus on character first?
  • While focusing on my character, how can I also develop my level competence? What resources do I need to tap in order to be more effective?

Don’t Be a Consumer Christian

One of the greatest inhibitors of the North American church is the consumer Christian. Few things drain resources and lag the advancement of the gospel more than this sin. Being a consumer Christian means you are more concerned about how a church fits your needs than how you can meet the needs of others. It includes a mindset that church exists for your benefit, rather than for God’s glory. Typically, consumer Christians have a few standard markers identifying them. They might include:

  • Frequently moving from church to church because none seem “biblical” or “good enough”
  • Regularly criticizing the way things are done while contributing little to nothing yourself
  • Being more concerned with your own preferences than the good of everyone collectively
  • A regular desire to see your own needs met while neglecting your responsibility to meet others’ needs
  • Witholding financial giving from a church for virtually any reason

Consumer Christians, sadly, are common in our churches here in North America, likely because of the self-centered culture that exists all around us (and has affected the church in some regards). We see that the world around us caters to our every need; we wonder why God’s loving people can’t do the same. The unfortunate yet provoking reality is that a consumer Christian is no different than a parasite, selfishly sucking resources and contributing nothing to the very mission to which they too have been called.

Truth is, we all have a little of the consumer Christian in us. We’re all guilty of subtly (or maybe blatantly) thinking the church exists primarily for our own benefit. Before any of us are too quick to point the finger, we need to examine our own hypocrisy and consider how we have misplaced us at the centre of the universe instead of Jesus.

Here are a few things to consider in regards to consumer Christians:

  • There may be a grain of truth in every criticism. Every church can do a better job of serving it’s people.
  • Point them to Jesus. Encourage them to see the church as primarily existing for God’s glory and the proclamation of Jesus’ gospel.
  • Help them to get connected. Christians who are serving have less time to complain because they are too busy doing kingdom work. Serving is the antidote to consumption.
  • Motivate them with joy. Loving God and others in practical ways is one way in which Christians experience great joy and satisfaction.

Lastly, a few questions for a self heart-check:

  • Am I more concerned about what I get out of church than if God is glorified and others are uplifted?
  • Am I being generous with my time, abilities, and money?
  • Am I expecting too much from the church?
  • Do I do more talk than action in my Christian walk?
  • How am I contributing to the mission of the church?
  • How can I raise legitimate concerns in helpful ways?
  • Have I considered that there may be logical reasons things are done the way they are that I don’t know about?

Don’t just consume…produce!