How has God worked since the universe began?
How would it be described in scientific terms – with or without the inclusion of God? What words could best describe the overall method by which the universe is functioning, has functioned (as best we can tell), and will function (as best we can predict)? Why can we study the past and project the future with any degree of confidence, anyway? Is it the makeup of the materials of the universe, operating under physical “laws?” Is the universe orderly, disorderly, or in between? Are changes directional or random? Do actions seem random at the micro-level but predictable at the macro-level, such as the cooling of the sun’s temperature over billions of years?
What type of action words might best describe the methods of God as revealed in the Bible? Is there any consistency, or even similarity, between the Bible’s description of the working of God and scientific discoveries of the universe? If there should be an overall consistency both between and within spiritual and physical realms, what should we do when an apparent inconsistency appears? Should we argue about it and call one another names, like atheist or superstitious? How helpful is that approach in yielding new revelation or knowledge?
What words might describe the overall picture in the Bible as well as physical science? Let’s consider some possibilities — a process, gradual, orderly, disorderly, linear, cyclic, unity, disunity, directional, chaotic, random, predictable, unpredictable, certain, uncertain, continuous, discontinuous. Quantum mechanics predicts randomness, but over a long time certain logical probabilities can be calculated and formed into predictions. There are episodes of disorder and chaos and discontinuities from relatively short term catastrophic occurrences, but aren’t there overall trends and directions that can be seen over 16 billion years? Science could make few applications based on extensions of present knowledge if chaos ruled – from string theory (the smallest of anything) to celestial mechanics. Isn’t it interesting that the smaller we go in the universe the larger the universe has to be to theoretically accommodate it? Fitting the mathematics of string theory with gravity and black holes requires 11 theoretical universes (the multiverse).
The scripture says God is a God of order, not disorder. So could it be said that the methodology of God in all of creation (the multiverse) can be described as an orderly, directional, continuous, linear process? Even if it is running down toward entropy within defined environments, considered from an overall perspective, even that energy decline is an orderly directed process. (For now, let’s postpone getting into a “discussion” over whether an orderly process can be explained by randomness or does it necessarily require a divine intelligence.)
First, consider where the weight of scripture falls regarding this question. The Bible is full of references to God as the creator of the universe – Genesis, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Isaiah, Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, etc. Let’s just consider one.
Rom. 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools
This passage clearly says that God’s qualities in the spiritual realm are not limited by anything created in the physical realm, but that the characteristics of God should be evident in His creation. Some people know about God, but they have chosen to ignore or deny the relationship between the creation and the mind of God. What this suggests is that principles in the spiritual realm and in the physical realm should be consistent and reveal the same character of the Creator – processes that are logical, orderly, directed, designed and carried out according to a prior plan – prior meaning before matter and time. If the physical creation runs according to a predesigned plan, then the plan had to have been formed before creation (big bang, whatever).
Some people, like those described in Rom. 1:18-22, would drop out here because they have preformed opinions and preconceptions that there cannot be any God, any deity, any supernatural force or entity involved in the universe– that it is just all spontaneous combustion and randomness and just don’t take me anywhere else. This discussion is for those who are willing to at least consider the idea of a continuity between spiritual and physical realms and that the design for this continuity has been revealed.
The design comes from the spiritual realm, from the mind of God, and this design reigns over the physical realm – “reigns” as in authority, as in purpose, as in control, as in direction – for the multiverse and everything in it – at least everything known to us at this time and presumably for all physical time.
The design of God also takes precedence over all biblical theories made by Christians about how the physical creation must work and how it was formed. A theory of beginnings based on interpretations of Young Earth Creationists do not get to judge the validity of the plan of God based on whether or not God’s plan fits into a 6000 year old earth and a 6×24 day creation sequence. No, it’s the other way around. If YEC or gap theory or any other theory doesn’t fit into the design of God for the universe, then the theory of human origin is wrong.
Who should be able to see this plan most clearly?
The Christian should have the greatest opportunity to understand the big picture of the universe and the function of mankind, because the Christian has the benefit of both knowledge from human physical discovery and wisdom from the revelation of God. The Christian should have the widest bandwidth for knowledge, because the Christian is supposed to be receiving from all channels. The Christian should not limit God by saying some channels are ungodly, some channels don’t exist anymore, some channels are not relevant for today, some channels are the product of lying human imagination, some channels are cluttered by uninformed, superstitious. weak-brained people, some channels are clogged by people going to hell, or whatever other excuses humans can manufacture to justify their own conceptual limitations.
The church should be leading the way into discovering new knowledge and how to use it in the betterment of the world and humankind, in the now, in the future, and throughout eternity. Is the church doing this, or are groups within the church too busy defending their doctrinal turf from one another? What keeps us from being open to the Spirit revealing the mind of God? Are Christians too busy defending the insightful biblical interpretations that someone made centuries ago, and are they afraid to step outside their local think box because of anticipated group discipline?
The plan is sovereign
The plan of God – the design for the creation – has been revealed in the Word of God – the Bible. Therefore, that source is where we must start our search. Most of the time, when people look for a plan only using physical experimentation, they find no evidence for one. Therefore, it is pointless to expect to find an overall plan using only physical data. But Rom. 1:18-22 says that when the plan from the spiritual realm is described, the physical data should be consistent. But the plan is as revealed in scripture and is not built around consistency with physical scientific data — the plan predates the data.
Is there a plan; when was the plan made and by whom; and what is the plan?
Eph.1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and sill — 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
What does the passage say? Is there a plan? (Yes)
Who is author of the plan? (God)
When was the plan made? (before the creation of the world)
When was the plan revealed to humankind? (when times reached their fulfillment)
What was the plan known as before that? (a mystery; God’s will and intent was unknown)
For whom was the plan purposed – who was to effect the plan? (Christ)
Is the plan operational? (The plan is operational because that is the will of God. Everything conforms to the purpose of God’s will).
Who is “adopted” – Jews or Gentiles? (Gentiles)
When was “adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ” made a part of the plan by predestination? (before the creation of the world)
Are both Jews and Gentiles a part of the plan? Have they always been in the plan? (Yes to both)
How do we know that? (For one thing — the plan is described in detail in Ephesians and Colossians — to whom was Ephesians written? – Eph 1:1 “… to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.” To whom was Colossians written – Col. 1:2 “To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse:” In other words, the books were not written to Jews only or Gentiles only, but to Christians only – Jews and/or Gentiles).
Have all things reached their fulfillment? Have all things in heaven and on earth been brought together under one head, Christ? (yes)
Col. 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Has the promise always included the Gentiles? (yes)
Gal. 3:6 Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” [Gen. 15:6] 7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” [Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18]. 9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. 10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” [Deut. 27:26]. 11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” [Hab. 2:4]. 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” [Lev. 18:5]. 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” [Deut. 21:23]. 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. [Acts 2:33].
What (Who) is the promise given to Abraham that “through his seed [Christ] all nations on the earth would be blessed?” (The promise is the Holy Spirit).
Luke 24:44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Acts 1:4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Acts 2:17 In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. [Joel 2:28-32]
Acts 2:33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
Acts 2:38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
From the above passages:
What was the promise given to Abraham – as identified when the promise was delivered? (the promise was the Holy Spirit Who was poured out on the Day of Pentecost).
To whom was the promise of the Holy Spirit given? (all nations; all people; to the ends of the earth; all who are far off; all whom the Lord our God will call; Jews and the Gentiles through Christ).
The promise of the Holy Spirit was part of the plan of God – made for all people – Jew or Gentile. The plan was made before the creation of the world.
Was there a logical sequence in which the plan (the gospel) would be made known? (Yes: Start in Jerusalem, spread to Judea, Samaria, and rest of the world – Gentiles). When was this sequence announced? (before the establishment of the church on Pentecost).
Rom 16:25 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God,
1 Cor, 2:6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.
Eph. 3:2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
Col. 1:25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
Col, 2:2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Has the plan of God always been revealed to man? When was it revealed and why? (It was hidden since before time began. It was revealed by the Holy Spirit to God’s apostles and prophets after the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost. It was revealed by the command of God because the fullness of time had come.)
What does the wisdom of God accomplish through His plan? (Our glory; share in the promise in Christ Jesus; have the hope of glory; be presented perfect in Christ; have treasures of wisdom and knowledge and complete understanding.)
What is needed to receive this wisdom? (be encouraged in heart and united in love).
What part of the mystery was fully opened? (That through the gospel the Gentiles are included in the glorious riches of Christ within and are heirs of the Father with Israel, in one body, and in one promise.)
Was the promise revealed to mankind before Christ? (No, that’s why is was a mystery).
Heb. 11:39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
1 Pet. 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
What process does salvation involve? (sanctification by the Spirit, sharing in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the plan of God from the beginning).
2 Thess. 2:13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
What is sanctification? (A process of being made or of becoming sanctified, or set apart for a purpose, or holy, as God is holy. We are being saved as we are being sanctified by the work of the Spirit. This is our created destiny – to be like God in true righteousness and holiness Eph. 4:24).
How do we know that the church started on Pentecost? (Because people responded to the gospel message, were baptized and received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and were added to their number, Acts 2:41. The Lord added to their number those being saved, Acts 2:47).
How do we know that the Gentiles were to be included in the church as part of God’s plan? (It had been prophesied by Isaiah, but the fulfillment remained a mystery until Christ).
Acts 13:44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
“I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” [Isa. 49:6]
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
Note that “the ends of the earth” means “the Gentiles” (Acts 13:47 and Acts 1:8).
What does God’s predestined plan call for? (For us to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ, that we might be brothers with Christ, that we might be justified and glorified).
Rom. 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Therefore: What is our destiny – planned before the creation of the world?
To be conformed to the likeness of Christ
To be brothers with Christ
To be saved, justified and glorified
To be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit
To be glorified with Christ
To be presented perfect in Christ
To receive the promise of the Father (the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Holy Spirit)
To be redeemed so that we can receive the promised Holy Spirit
To be in one body of Christ from both Jew and Gentile without distinction
To be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24)
To be renewed in knowledge in the image of the Creator (Col. 3:10)
Was it the predestined will of God, even before the formation of the universe, that Jesus Christ would come into the world, suffer and die for our sins, be raised again, so that we would be free to receive the spiritual DNA of God and grow to become like Him? Yes.
 In “the believers’ prayer” (Acts 4:23-31), the assembly acknowledged the authority of the creator God, quoted prophecies from Psalm 2 in which David said by the Holy Spirit that earthly leaders would come against the Christ, and said “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” This doesn’t specifically say this was destined “before the creation,” but the prayer starts off referring to the creation in verse 24.
 Paul said that the mystery. hidden for ages, was Christ (Col. 2:2) and Christ in you (Col. 1:27) This mystery was made before creation and was purposed in Christ (Eph. 1:9). We were chosen before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight (Eph. 1:4), which could be effected only through the sacrifice of Christ — redemption through His blood and forgiveness of sin (Eph. 1:7). The world was created through, by, and for Christ –things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, thrones or powers or rulers or authorities. Christ holds all things together. (Col. 1:15-18). Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing could be made (John 1:3).
The universe was made by Christ, who reigns supreme over it and holds it together. Christ is the predestined plan; the plan was for Him to come and make peace by nailing our sins to the cross (Col. 1:20). Therefore, the physical universe and everything in it submits to Christ and to the predestined plan of God — made before the universe was formed. The physical universe was created to fulfill the predestined plan of God that had been made before the universe was formed.
What does this mean? It means that the working of the physical universe fits into .the eternal plan of God — including the function, the developments, the changes, and the overall purpose and direction. The nature of eternal plan of God submits to Jesus Christ as does the nature of the universe. The carrying out of the eternal plan of God will be revealed in the nature and working of the natural universe. Isn’t that what Rom. 1:20 says? One can look at the working of the universe and see the plan of God, and one can look at the plan of God as revealed in the scripture to help understand the working of the universe.
Since the eternal plan of God in Jesus Christ is sovereign over things created, we should begin in the inspired scripture in the place where the most complete information has been revealed. The plan was brought about and set into place in final form through Jesus Christ, and the plan was revealed to the saints by the Holy Spirit operating through God’s apostles and prophets. Therefore, we should begin researching the plan in the teachings of Jesus, when He taught about the plan and then enacted the plan, and in the teachings in Acts and the epistles about the operation of the Holy Spirit, Who was poured out by Jesus on the Day of Pentecost.
Summary of characteristics of the plan of God and evolution
God moves through orderly processes that build upon the products of past toward something that is better, more direct, simpler, but in paradox, also more complex. God orchestrates change that is directed toward His nature – His character. God works to bring things to completion, to maturity, to perfection, to perfect love. God has operated by continuous and sequential processes – starting with the creation of energy, matter, and time, the development and creation of humankind, the close of the Old Covenant, the total fulfillment of the Old Law and prophecies in the birth, life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father, on Pentecost, and the close of the final age with the glorification of the saints in the final coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. All of these operations involve processes, done at exactly the right time with exactly the right circumstances and exactly the right environmental developments so that things happen according to orderly laws set in motion at the initial formation of the universe. God has foreknowledge because God set it up that way — it is inevitable. What appears random to us in our limited scope of observation is by design of God, who has eternal perspective. The final destiny is that we be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24).
God is the source of all things through Jesus Christ our Lord. God operates in phases that are renewed when people have developed sufficiently from the previous phase to receive and understand new information in the new phase and properly act upon it. People have always had a choice between good and evil, light and darkness, upward linear movement or downward cycling. The story of the Old Testament recounts the working of God through individuals, through tribes, and through a nation of people. With increasing complexity of population and social structure, God revealed more of His nature through requirements for obedience and fair treatment between people. God has seemingly intervened when the course of events are not following the predetermined plan, but there is no precedent in the scripture for God just zapping things into physical existence as suggested by the human interpretation of 6×24-hour days of creation imposed upon Gen. 1-3. Everything else – spiritual evolution (sanctification), social and religious evolution (Old Testament) — has been gradual orderly processes. Why should physical creation be any different? A process of physical evolution over 16 billion years is more consistent with the nature of the eternal plan of God than any proposal made out of the interpretations from Young Earth Creationism.
Comment: Creation follows the predestined plan of God and is characterized by a sequential, continual, and orderly construction of products of increasing complexity.
It is the job of Christians and the church to grow into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ, not to fight over private interpretations of past events. And that includes the mechanism God used in creation. It does not make anyone to be more like God to fight over 16 billion years or 6000 years of creation. In fact, it does the opposite. What has been the fruit of the creationist movement? For every person “converted” to Christ by creationism, how many orders of magnitude more have left the church because of the untenable positions and unloving behavior of advocates of creationism? How many textbook fights in the state of Texas do we have to have to completely convince the scientific community that Christians are superstitious and uninformed? Are we afraid of something? Didn’t God say that His divine nature is seen in the creation? Shouldn’t people remove their mental preconceptions and honestly look for God’s divine nature in creation instead of trying to impose their interpretation of God onto the scriptures? Then by their behavior, show that their interpretations surely must be wrong?
If someone should actually want to put Gen. 1-3 in the context of the eternal plan of God instead of in the context of their erroneous preconceptions, they would drop all the notions of Young Earth Creationism like the lead brick that they are.
Everything in the creation and the time that followed all testify to the eternal plan of God. Which diagrammed sequence better follows an orderly plan – God suddenly forming one thing after another, each in adult form from its own raw materials, then jumping to respond to man’s mistakes? Or, God’s creation following an orderly sequence that builds toward the more complex in physical, social/religious, and spiritual evolutionary ages so that we, in the last days, can be transformed into His likeness.
The eternal plan of God involves – Salvation
Salvation is an essential part of God’s eternal plan. But how well do we understand it?
When discussions occur on subjects such as the operation of the Spirit, the eternal plan of God, growing to be like God, some people either get overwhelmed by the “meat of the word” discussion or feel encroached upon by discussions they don’t want to take the time to understand. Under these conditions, it is frequently said, “Well, you don’t have to know everything and be a Greek scholar in order to be saved.” Usually, these people have a list of things to obey that they do understand, or think they do, such as certain liturgies, water baptism, public statements, signed documents, etc. But that’s okay – it’s just those Greek words that gotta get out of here.
This is an example of an incomplete understanding of salvation, or of being saved. Often it is considered that being saved just involves the initial acceptance, statement of faith, subsequent acts of obedience (whatever) and then approval by the church. Then you’re in the fold and free to maintain your membership by attending church, signing your checks, and not being a troublemaker. There is some truth in there, and it doesn’t require a lot of knowledge to understand it. But what if salvation means much more than “the beginning?” What happens if salvation is a total life experience? In that case, if one is growing from milk to meat of the word one might find some deeper thinking and a few Greek words to be helpful. That’s what we’re talking about. Do you want to continue to climb or to stop and recycle what you’ve got?
The purpose of the book of Acts was to document the authority of Jesus Christ working through the Holy Spirit in getting the church initially established. Sermons were preached and authenticated by signs and wonders, and different types of conversions accounts were documented to set the direction for the future. It was not Luke’s purpose to write about the indwelling Holy Spirit or the phase of discipleship, sanctification, and transformation of the people following conversion. It is in there, but one has to look for it. Paul, however, goes into this matter in detail. Yet, too often we look to the book of Acts and see thousands of responses to sermons and people being baptized and counted and get the idea that this is the example of salvation. After all, it is “whomever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” As a result, the emphasis on evangelism is on number of conversions and not on number of people being transformed into Christ. Just baptize them and go preach to the next one — after they dry off, they can fend for themselves.
The extent to which this abandonment of new believers occurs is the extent to which people are left to recycle their immature natures. Heb. 6:1-3 lists a number of topics of “elementary teachings of Christ” that we are to “leave behind” in our grow into maturity. These milk of the word teachings involve first principles – recognition of and repentance from sin, saving faith, fear of the punishment of hell, and water baptism. These topics are fresh fodder for sermon material today and part of being “evangelical.” Jesus is the answer – yes – but now let’s move on to more complex questions expected of people who are growing into maturity in the faith.
What does it mean “to be saved?” Is “saved” in the past tense? Do we say, “I was saved on [such-&-such historical date]?” Are we “saved” only once? If saved once, then are we always saved?
Is salvation described by the figure below — Be saved – Try not to mess it up – Hope for heaven? (Answer: Just say, “No.”) Does this characterize the “fearful tip-toe in the Spirit” that one might have following a conversion without subsequent teaching about spiritual transformation into holiness? (Answer: “Maybe.”)
What does it mean “to be saved?” Is “being saved” in the past tense? Do we say, “I was saved on [such-&-such-historical-date].” Are we “saved” only once? If saved once, then are we always saved?
The above diagram is pretty “works oriented.”
Are we saved by the grace of God or are we saved by the works we do?
If we have been saved by the grace of God and not by works, what does it mean to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling?”
Phil. 2:12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,
We are saved by grace, but it seems we also need to do works; so, what does that mean?
Eph. 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
And what about those passages that suggest we need obedience to obtain salvation? So, is the formula: faith + obedience = works into salvation?
Heb 5:8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,
Elements of salvation
The following web pages are referenced with respect to elements of salvation and meanings of different verb tenses
The scripture uses the word “salvation” in just about every verb tense – past completed, past with action continued to present, past with action of indefinite time, present (continuing), past with a view to the future, and future tenses.
It might be helpful to consider salvation in three interdependent functions or three linked phases.
As characteristically seen when the eternal plan of God is administered, each of the three phases continues to build upon the accumulated outcome of previous work. Justification occurs with forgiveness of sin, propitiation, redemption, reconciliation, and with all elements of the New Creation in Christ. Justification, and the effects of justification (e.g., continual cleansing of sin – 1 John 1:9), is necessary for sanctification to take place. As sanctification takes place, more glorification is produced. We are glorified when we become more like the likeness (glory) of God. Final glorification comes when Christ comes again and we are raised with incorruptible bodies into the presence of God. Sanctification, being made set apart and holy, occurs with transformation, being changed into the character of Jesus Christ, which occurs with renewal of the mind, being changed from the old nature of sin into the new nature of the Spirit, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Salvation, therefore, is not a product of a reaction, but salvation is building a relationship with God as we build relationship with one another. Salvation is not completed when one trusts in Christ — at that point salvation has only begun. Salvation is a life of growing into being like Christ. Salvation is not an act that occurs once, and we spend the rest of our lives trying not to mess it up. If that were the case, God would do us a favor by killing us immediately after we were saved.
Salvation starts the moment we are born again as a New Creation – forgiven, sin free, justified, redeemed, heirs of God, having received the indwelling Holy Spirit and the gift of the Holy Spirit – the genes of God coding for His character as perfectly expressed in the life of Jesus Christ. Salvation continues as we take progressively off more of the old sinful nature and put on the new nature, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24), as we are renewed in our mind into the creator (Col. 3:10) and transformed (Rom.12:2) into the Lord with ever increasing glory (2 Cor. 3:18). This is the process of sanctification by the Holy Spirit into the holiness of God. As we become more like God, we increasingly share in the glory of His nature. This process will be brought into final perfection and completion when Jesus returns in His glory to claim His own, and we are raised incorruptible to live eternally with God.
So, when are we saved? Over a lifetime. If we limit salvation to initial conversion, we have missed much of the meaning of salvation. We may miss the sanctification part of salvation, which occurs when we act in a way that Jesus acted — in love, in service, in ministering to one another, in building up the body of Christ, in sharing the love of Jesus with others, in building a culture of love, peace, and unity in the body of Christ.
Salvation is used in the following verses in past, present, future verb tenses and in combinations.
Acts 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Rom. 1:16 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.
Rom. 10:1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.
Rom. 10:10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Rom. 13:11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
1 Corinthians 1:18; 15:2
1 Cor. 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
2 Cor. 2:15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved ….
2 Cor. 6:2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” [Isa 49:8] I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
2 Cor. 7:10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
Phil 1:27 I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.
1 Thess. 5:9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Tim 2:10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
2 Tim 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Titus 3:4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life
Heb 1:14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
Heb 5:8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
Heb 9:28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
1 Pet. 1:4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Pet 1:9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Some of these passages refer to salvation as a past action with a future fulfillment, some as a present and continuous action, and some as a future action. Tit. 3:4-7 refers to all three – having been justified, to be renewed by the Holy Spirit (sanctification), to receive the hope of eternal life (glorification). And in 1 Peter, we are receiving the salvation (vs 9) which is not yet fully revealed (vs 4).
The passage from 2 Timothy (below) ties together salvation as a past action with continuous effects coinciding with a call to a holy life. We receive the call and live the life of holiness just as we receive the salvation (justification) and live the life of salvation (sanctification) for that day (glorification). This was purposed before the beginning of time in the gift of grace in Christ Jesus. God’s mystery has been revealed in Christ and proclaimed by the apostles and teachers.
2 Timothy 1:8 Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.
The plan of God and implications about “The Fall of Man”
What are the implications of God’s grace in Christ Jesus being given to us before the beginning of time? What about the doctrine of “the Fall of Man” because of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden? According to this doctrine “the Fall” occurred and all of humankind “fell from grace,” so Jesus had to be introduced into the plan as prophesied by God when He spoke to the serpent. Therefore, Jesus is necessary to restore man to where he was before the fall. That means that without Jesus Christ, one remains “fallen” and therefore condemned. But 2 Timothy says that Jesus was part of the plan of grace before time started, so the coming of Christ was planned by God before “the Fall” and not after. So, did God know that “the Fall” was inevitable? Did God create mankind with sin in their future? Did God cause Adam to sin? Did God “set Adam up” by putting Eve in the Garden? That’s what Adam said! Another alternative is that “the Fall” is promoted as a doctrine to set up a straw man of sin so that a need for Jesus Christ could be preached in sermons. It is the church justifying itself by a “doctrine of original sin?”
Is that what we preach? Is it really valid to preach a need for Christ and the church in order to escape hell — based on the doctrine of “the Fall” which condemns everybody after Adam? Or, is it closer to the intention and direction of God’s plan that Christ and the church would be necessary for us to grow to be like God at the fastest possible rate? Either we preach Jesus with a threat of condemnation behind it, or we preach Jesus because sanctification begins that changes us into Jesus. Which approach do we show in the lives of the church? What do people see looking into the church — Christians leading holy lives or people living so close to sin and hell they have their tail feathers singed?
The heavy influence of the doctrine of “the Fall” doesn’t stop at the borders of Calvinism and Lutheranism. Much of the doctrines of various tribes of Christianity assume “a Fall,” even if they don’t present it in those exact terms. “The Fall” is useful as a default background of human depravity against which Jesus can be contrasted as the deliverer. But, as often happens when a concept that starts out as a Biblical insight is made into a doctrine, the teaching goes too far. Why? What was the plan of God made before the creation of the world — that we would be predestined to stumble and fall and fail, or that we would be predestined to grow into the righteousness and holiness of God through the Lord Jesus Christ? Perhaps the various parts of the doctrine of “the Fall” needs to be reexamined for Biblical validity. Some, maybe a lot, of the doctrine is likely correct. However, Jesus paid the price for our sins so that we might lead a life that grows in grace into the perfection of God.
Is “the plan of salvation” associated with escaping from “the Fall” or becoming like God
Escaping the pits of hell once made for effective sermons generating many responses, but the ball was usually fumbled before it got to a life of sanctification. Measurable results were (and are) the number of baptisms or membership cards. Heb. 6:1-3 says this type of thinking is “elementary” and “milk of the word” that needs to move on to maturity. The consequences of recycling immaturity are not good (Heb. 6:4ff).
What is meant by the phrase, “the plan of salvation.” Should it better be called, “the plan for salvation?” Different Christian groups (tribes) have defined “plan” and “salvation” in different ways; and when they get finished explaining, one has to wonder whose plan it is — God’s plan or a human plan. Different groups place their doctrinal trademarks on “the plan” by what they require in order to be “qualified” — member of this group, go through these classes, memorize this, do that, go through these five steps, get certified, accept this, sign here, get yourself baptized in a certain way. You’re saved by grace, but then you must ….. Or, you’re saved by grace and obedience to the faith, and we will tell you what the obedience consists of.
So, when folks get finished with all that defining, many “plans” have emerged — all with different tribal brandings — like each group taking God’s “plain vanilla” generic plan and dressing it up with their own particular doctrinal trademarks. Maybe groups should put “Patent Pending” on their church signs and web home pages. Many would consider that their plan is the only correct one, and it is everyone else’s plan that is “pending” – and their plan will never be “approved,” because it is wrong.
The relationship between salvation (justification) by grace, salvation (sanctification) by works, and salvation (glorification) by the Holy Spirit.
What about those passages that seem to relate salvation with works?
Working out your own salvation. In Phil 2:1-11, Paul talked about imitating Christ’s humility. Then, in verses 12-16:
Phil 2:12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. 14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.
Continuing to work out our salvation is not used in a context of continuing to earn it, maintain it, or try not to lose it — the context is the salvation promoting the works. “You have always obeyed” is performance in the past. So, what kind of works — to will (voluntarily choose to submit to God) and to act in accordance with His purpose (His plan before the creation of the earth). Why — so that you may become ….. those traits produced by the sanctification process — blameless, pure, without fault, shining like stars, holding out the word of life. Sanctification with increasing glory into the nature of God, with final glorification on the day of Christ. So these verses have past, present process, and future glory — all components of salvation.
Living lives worthy of God. The passages below from 1 Thess. 2 have some of the same words and message as Phil. 2: “…who works in you …” and 1 Thess. 2: ” … is at work in you…”
1 Thess. 2:10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. 13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
The two “works” in Philippians are different words. We are working out (katergazesthe, be you effecting, middle voice-we participate and receive) our salvation, and God is at work (energon, is operating, energizing, present tense continuous) in us – in accordance with His preordained purpose. We receive the word at some time in the past and God is continually at work In 2 Thess., we continue to work (effect, present tense) through His miraculous energy operating in believers.
Saved by grace to do good works.
Eph. 2:4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
By the unmerited favor and unilateral action of God, we were saved (justified, reconciled, forgiven; we are having been saved – present perfect tense- past action with continuing effect – salvation began in the past but continues into the present) through faith (counted to us as the righteousness of Christ) — not of the products of our own human goodness or performance (works). But we are the products (works, achievement) of God’s goodness, and we were created in Christ as a New Creation and given the spiritual genes of God so that we can actively allow these genes to express the character of Jesus Christ. Our action is Spirit-empowered (2 Thess. 2:17) works of love and service for one another; the Spirit’s action on us is producing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. All of this is the predestined plan of God, revealed through Christ for us in the last days, being carried out.
Once we are justified, can we still “fall off the wagon?”
The letters to the seven churches in Rev. 2-3 would certainly suggest that entire congregations in a city or area, who were one on track, can get off track to their own demise — most of the seven had quenched the Spirit so much that the Lord threatened to remove their lampstand — the flame was going out, anyway.
There are many passages that deal with falling away from the faith as associated with some pretty negative imagery — those “who left the straight way and wondered off” are like dogs returning to vomit and a sow that is washed returning to the mud (2 Pet. 2:15, 22). What can this mean in light of the “once saved, always saved” doctrine; or, even, “if saved, always saved?” If someone who has once been forgiven and justified by the blood of Jesus and put on the way of sanctification, but later they reject Jesus, do we “cover for the doctrine” by saying, “Oh, they were never really saved to begin with?” Why isn’t that like saying, “Oh, I guess the dog must have not eaten anything” or “that oinker must not have been washed in the first place?” No, the verse says the sow had been washed.
In the letters to the churches, the Spirit said that the church at Ephesus had “forsaken its first love” (Rev. 2:4). Would we say, “They must not have had real love to start with?” The church in Pergamum was falling prey to false teachers (Rev. 2:14-15). Would we say they must not have believed the “full gospel” in the first place?
Parts of the “once saved, always saved” doctrine have Biblical support, but the doctrine goes too far – just like the doctrine of original sin from “The Fall” goes too far. The doctrines are based on salvation being primarily the initial redemption and justification and a narrow perspective of what the story of the Garden represents..
Other passages indicate that the process of sanctification (transformation, renewal) must be maintained and energized to keep going toward Jesus or else a sidetrack or backward movement occurs. There is no standing still. Even if we think we are stationary, time continues to pass, and we are left further and further behind.
1 Cor, 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
1 Tim 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.
The above passages indicate that there are several ways to “fall off the wagon.” One is to actively abandon the faith and pursue something else. Another is to not hold on firmly to the gospel of salvation, which is more than beginning belief for justification — that just clears the path of the stumbling blocks of sin so we can travel the road to God. Another is to not grow out of spiritual immaturity.
Other passages amplify on what it might mean to “believe in vain.”
Peter covers the entire process and purpose in the following verses:
2 Pet 1:3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.
Out of God’s own glory and goodness, He called us to be like Him. God gave us the promise of the Father — His dunamis power in the Holy Spirit and His own spiritual DNA, so that we can share in His divine nature. We do this by being transformed into His righteousness and holiness as we start with faith and grow through sanctification. In this process, we grow in Godly qualities as we continue developing into God’s nature in increasing measure (ever increasing glory, 2 Cor. 3:18). “Increasing measure” is the only choice; there is no stationary, there is no regression — such is being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of Christ. This person has forgotten the purpose of justification, forgiveness, and being declared righteous. We were called to be of the elect who are becoming like God, and if we continue upward toward Jesus by taking off the old nature and putting on Christ, we cannot fail to receive the promise of final glorification in heaven. (“Well, how little can I do and still get by?” — Don’t even go there.)
Verses in Hebrews tell us of the necessity of spiritual growth and maturation — both for individuals and for the corporate body (they go together). Continuous spiritual grown into maturity is mandatory; there is no other option. There is no “pause” button on God’s remote; there is no “hold” or “stop” or “rewind” or “freeze;” no “rest and take a nap,” no “take a side trip,” no “stop and defend what you have.” There is one button — “Go at the max!” If someone stops and tries to defend what they have already attained attempting to keep someone else from contaminating the purity of their development, it’s already too late — they have contaminated it already themselves. It’s like the manna — don’t rest and accumulate your spiritual progress — it will rot. Don’t have food fights with manna. Manna has a short expiration date — only one day. So, don’t waste time throwing it at somebody else.
Heb. 5:11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Earlier in Heb. 5, the writer spoke of Jesus being made perfect and the source for eternal salvation. Then, beginning in vs 11, the readers are told that there is a lot more to say about this (perfection and eternal salvation), but you are not ready to hear it because you keep recycling the elementary doctrines that do not lead to the righteousness of God. You’re not growing — you’re staying on “pause.”
Then the writer lists some of the elementary teachings —
Heb. 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 3 And, God permitting, we will do so.
These topics sound like “saving belief in Christ,” redemption, forgiveness, ceremonies around being saved like baptism and laying on of hands. Not having to worry about going to hell after resurrection. Things that might bring conviction to a sinner of the need for Jesus. These are important topics for beginners, but they are topics some preachers can spend a lot of time on and call it “being evangelical.” Evangelical at the expense of growing into the maturity of the full knowledge of Christ.
Not growing into maturity has serious consequences — the section continues:
Heb. 6:4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. 9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
Recycling immaturity and remaining in the milk of the word is like being justified, reconciled, forgiven, but not going on to sanctification to be like the righteousness and holiness of God. They are born into the kingdom and appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, but do not recognize the reason Jesus did that — to free from sin so we can be transformed into His glory. Staying in immaturity is the same as “falling away.” In the attitudes of the immature, Jesus has to die over and over because their sins seem to be never completely forgiven — they don’t leave them behind as they race to the high calling in the Lord. Their recycling is worthless. Better things accompany salvation — the opportunity to work, serve, and love one another as we help other people in their walk in the Lord, as we remove hindrances and roadblocks from their way, and as we encourage and build up the body of Christ. Continue to do this; don’t stop and admire yourself or your self-assessed accomplishments or bask in the sunshine of earthly admirers. Not being lazy, but “continuing on” is like that described in 2 Peter — it makes your hope sure until we will inherit what has been promised — the ultimate glorification in fellowship with God.
Once saved, always saved? If saved, always saved? This doctrine involves a very imprecise definition of “salvation” or “saved.” Once justified, always sanctified? Hebrews and 2 Peter say “not necessarily — it’s up to you to continue toward the ultimate promise.” You can be sure by continuing — don’t stop and toss the manna.
“Sin” under the Old Covenant and under the New Covenant
Sin is falling short of the glory of God. People used to pray “Forgive us of our sins of commission and omission.” Those words closely describe the difference in sin under the Old Covenant and under the New Covenant.
Under the Old Covenant, people fell short of God’s perfect nature because they were disobedient. Sin was a transgression, a violation, a breaking of the Law. There was no continual forgiveness — acts of sin had to be compensated for by repeated acts of sacrifice. It was impossible to please God because of unavoidable disobedience and sins of commission.
But sins of commission were paid for permanently by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in our place, so we can live in freedom from that continual bondage. But why was this done? What part this sacrifice assume in the foreordained plan of God? What was the reason? So we can be cut loose and be happy campers while we do our own thing? Yes, as long as “our thing” is to be transformed into the likeness of God at the maximum possible rate.
Continually spending time worrying, teaching, and preaching about sins of commission and the need for repentance and forgiveness for that in order to escape eternal punishment is recycling immaturity. That doesn’t mean we are free to do these sins, which is the opposite way of focusing on immaturity. When we have been truly freed from the sinful nature, we do not want to do these sinful acts anymore, because we have a new priority, a new focus, a new goal. Jesus cleared the air so we could become like God.
How do we do that? By becoming like Jesus in love and service for one another. By study, prayer, and fellowship in the Holy Spirit. By being one in mind and purpose — be transformed into the glory of God. So, what is missing the mark — what is falling short of the glory of God — what is the form of sin under the New Covenant. We have been freed from the sin of the Old Law so that we can use every opportunity God presents to us to become like him. Sin is missing an opportunity to become more like God — is the sin of omission — the difference between where we could be on the road to God and where we are is our shortfall — that is sin. Do we pay consequences for that? Yes, but the consequences are not negative as under the Old Covenant, the consequences are “less positive.”
Think of it as someone who might become an accomplished musician — let’s say, playing the piano. The parents sacrifice and buy a piano and pay for lessons, but in Scenario 1, the child rejects the whole idea, considers the piano worthless, and wants instead to be a professional Tiddly Wink player who tries to flip lead winks into a 2″ diameter pot 6 feet away during an earthquake > RS4. (I tried to describe something that wouldn’t offend anybody.) The kid could have been a great pianist, but no-o-o. Scenario 2. Let’s say the child starts on the piano and does very well, but then decides on Tiddly Winks, stops the piano playing, and his skills atrophy. He forgets there even is a master piano player. Or, Scenario 3. Let’s say the child takes the lessons and practices a lot, but could have done more, and becomes a good pianist who also plays some Tiddly Winks. Later, he sees the difference between the value of the piano and lead winks, and he thinks, “I should have practiced more; I should have emulated the master player; I could have done this, but I missed too many opportunities.” The master player can play enjoyable music with those who are more like him. Finally, Scenario 4. Let’s say the child has his focus on being like the master, and he learns and practices over and over to learn. He tutors others on how to play better, and he improves himself in so doing. Finally, he matures into a wonderful player who has much in common with the master player, and they enjoy playing harmonious music together. The lead Tiddly Winks didn’t make it.
Opportunities to become more like God can be missed in many ways. One, acts done to be seen of men instead of privately to be seen by God. Jesus said they already have their reward — a physical reward on earth. They are more like the inflated image of themselves and not more like the image of the Creator. Two, just ignoring the opportunities to become like God through good works and service because our priorities are too much on ourselves. James is informing people of the time that they are not putting their professed faith into action, and they are not becoming like God because of it.
James 4:13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
These people knew to do good in the sense of works of service to benefit others in the name of Jesus, but they spent their time and effort on themselves. The good they knew to do would have helped them grow into the maturity of the knowledge of Jesus, but they didn’t do the good and missed the opportunity. They will be less like the glory of God because of it — a knowingly missing opportunity is sin. It is the difference between what we are and what we could have been.
Therefore, focusing only on avoiding the consequences of sin is immature spiritual thinking. Mature spiritual thinking is growing into the likeness of God. Under the Old Covenant, sin was what one did that displeased (disobeyed) God; under the New Covenant, sin is what one does not do to become like God. “If anyone knows to do good but doesn’t do it, to him it is sin.” The “good work” isn’t counted “against” him; it just isn’t counted “for” him to become like God – it is like a missed opportunity. So we should be ready and be looking for opportunities to do good.
Okay, that must mean we sin all the time – so, that must mean we’re toast, big time! Right? No.
1 John 1:5 this is the message we have heard from him and declare to you; God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by 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, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
So, we are to keep traveling toward Jesus, in fellowship with one another and in fellowship with God, doing good works created in advance for us to do, being transformed with ever increasing glory into the image of the Creator, leaving behind the elementary teachings and growing into maturity. This is the foreordained plan of God — that we were predestined to become like Him in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24).