Discipleship – what believers must do: 2 Timothy 2


Today’s reading: 2 Timothy 1-4.

“The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.” ― Kevin DeYoung

There is a growing movement in churches today, an imperative which has been ignored too long. While focusing on numbers and decisions we neglected the thrust of Jesus’ ministry – discipleship. We have built churches which are often devoid of discipleship. If instead we had been disciplers, there would have been no lack of growing churches. Paul summed up the essence of discipleship when he described how it stretched across four generations of believers:

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 2 Timothy 2:2

You (generation two) heard me (generation one) and told reliable men (generation three) who will teach others (generation four). The process involved isn’t limited to witnessing or helping the lost make decisions. Discipling takes a believer, at any stage in his growth, and shepherds him or her through a continuing process of learning and doing until they are qualified to do the same for another believer. Jesus was the master discipler, and his success was shown by the rapid growth of the church. After Jesus’ death there were only 120 believers, but within weeks the number had grown to thousands and it has never looked back. Jesus spent a small amount of time teaching large crowds, but the vast majority of his time was engaged in discipling a small number of people, and three men received even greater attention. This is the pattern that God wants us to follow so that we can maximize our impact on the world.

My pastor, Brandon Ware of Green Street Baptist Church, recently shared Jim Putnam’s definition of a disciple.

  • A disciple is one who knows and follows Christ.
  • A disciple is one who is being changed by Christ.
  • A disciple is one who is on mission with Christ.

Jesus gave the command for discipling in his Great Commission.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Teaching the doctrines of Christianity is a key part of discipleship, but it can’t stop there. That Greek model of teaching creates students full of head knowledge who won’t necessarily live out what they learn. Instead we need the Jewish model which Jesus used. Those who are truly discipled learn by living with their teacher, observing him in action, doing what he does with his assistance, then doing it independently. It is very much like the method we used in medical school to learn procedures. Each student would “see one, do one, then teach one.”

What would it look like in the local church if spiritually mature men and women began doing what Jesus did by finding two or three others and intentionally investing in their life by providing support and accountability?  Spiritually mature men ought to be investing into other men, and spiritually mature women ought to be investing in other women. Through such a relationship, disciples can be taught how to pray, how to study God’s Word, how to share the gospel, how to give, and what it means to follow Jesus.  This is a simple process of how we can make disciples who repeat the process in the lives of others. It was this process that turned the world upside down. – Brandon Ware

In order to fully carry out the command of the Great Commission, we must understand a crucial term in this verse. The King James Version of the Bible renders the Greek word for make disciples as teach. Matthew 28:19 in the King James Version reads, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…” Many diligent believers simply read this word and merely teach people about salvation—share the gospel and lead them to a decision for Christ.  This is good and admirable, but it is not enough: more is required to make a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is only one aspect of Jesus’ command. Making disciples requires equipping, training, and investing in believers. So what is discipleship? We could say that it is “intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ.” In other words, a disciple learns what Jesus said and lives out what Jesus did (Matthew 28:19). – Robby Gallaty

Image, “Christ with two disciples,” by Rembrandt


Christmas light


Blow away the snow
Let all the presents go
Christmas must be more than these
If Christmas we would know

Take down the candled trees
And brighter lights we’ll see
Christmas glows with inner light
The light that comes from Thee

You were Creation’s light
The word that gives us sight
They laid you in the manger’s hay
We met you Christmas night

But long before that day
We heard the prophets say
That you would come and suffer much
To take our sins away

We felt your human touch
The cry of death was hushed
You left behind the greatest gift
Though you, yourself, were crushed

Your death repaired the rift
Allowed our souls to lift
Your Christmas journey brought us peace
If we receive your gift

So look beneath the snow
and see beyond the trees
and spy the brighter light
and hear the prophets speak
We need Redeemer’s touch
We need a Savior’s lift
No others matter much
We need his Christmas gift

2014, by Robert Dellinger

Image by Andy Schultz on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

Women and the church: I Timothy 2


Today’s reading: I Timothy 1-6.

Some passages are difficult to understand or accept, but learning “the whole counsel of God” is key to reading the Bible. John Piper asked his audience to judge whether this passage surprised or offended them. If it did not offend them, he said, they had grasped the essence of Biblical manhood and womanhood.

When a husband leads like Christ and a wife responds like the bride of Christ, there is a harmony and mutuality that is more beautiful and more satisfying and more fruitful than any pattern of marriage created by man. God loves his people and he loves his glory. And therefore when we follow his idea of marriage, we are most satisfied and he is most glorified. – John Piper

Some discredit this passage by saying it is only Paul speaking, or that it is a product of the times in which it was written. However, it fits with everything else the Bible says about men, women, and the church.

I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. I Timothy 2:9-14

This passage relates to the discussion of submission in Ephesians 5. Based on that passage, Piper gives the following definitions:

  • “Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christ-like servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.”
  • “Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.”

Submission as used in the New Testament comes from a Greek military word describing how troops were ordered by their rank. In non-military use it referred to a voluntary willingness to agree, cooperate, or carry out a responsibility. It has none of the connotation of being “beaten into submission” as we might say today. It has much to do with working together according to an agreed hierarchy in order to accomplish common goals.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.” Quietness doesn’t mean silence. Instead it refers to a peaceful and orderly life, as in Paul’s earlier statement, “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” The twin tasks of teaching and wielding authority describe the position of the elder in the early church. With that in mind, Piper says, the best way to understand this verse is that women should not serve as elders in the church. The Bible does give examples of women teaching other women and children. There is even the example of Priscilla teaming up with her husband to teach Apollos.

“For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” Paul takes us back to the beginning to show that this lining up of men and women in a working order was not new on his part, but came from God’s original design. 

God created man first, put him in the garden, gave him the responsibility over the garden and the moral pattern for life in the garden, and then created woman as his partner and assistant to help him carry that responsibility into action. – John Piper

Both Adam and Eve sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. Eve was deceived when she stepped out of her role as assistant and took on the role of decision-maker without consulting Adam. Adam abandoned his position and accepted Eve’s decision. The result was disastrous for them both. Paul makes this point to help us avoid repeating their mistake. He wants the church body to live according to God’s original design. If the church will do so, then such mistakes can be prevented. Of course, both parties must fulfill their responsibility. Men can fail to lead effectively, to be servants, or to be Christ-like. Women can fail to act as partners and assistants.

The relationship between husbands and wives in the home carries through to the relationship between men and women in the church. Earlier I gave Piper’s definitions for headship and submission in the home, but he has given equally good definitions for authority and submission in the church.

  • “Authority” refers to the divine calling of spiritual, gifted men to take primary responsibility as elders for Christ-like servant leadership and teaching in the church.
  • “Submission” refers to the divine calling of the rest of the church, both men and women, to honor and affirm the leadership and teaching of the elders and to be equipped by them for the hundreds of various ministries available to men and women in the service of Christ.

Check your attitude toward the opposite sex: Competitive or cooperative? There should be no war between the sexes in the church. Men should esteem and affirm godly women for their ministries. Women should respect and submit to godly elders in their leadership. Elders are not to lord it over the flock, but to be examples of godliness. The times when elders need to use their authority are rare. If we all submit to God and serve in our God-given roles, there will be cooperation. – Steven J. Cole

Image by Bread for the World on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

The Time of Lawlessness: 2 Thessalonians


Today’s reading: 2 Thessalonians 1-3.

“What happens when the antichrist comes?”

Jesus said no man knows the time of his return, but he also described what that time would be like so we would recognize it when it happens. Paul added some more details about the events leading up to Jesus’ return, a time when the man of lawlessness is revealed, a man presumed to be the Antichrist, a world leader who will proclaim himself to be God. Paul described this time of lawlessness in the context of Jesus’ second coming, a time also known as the Day of the Lord. These things will happen, Paul said, before Jesus returns.

For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8

Paul described a time of rebellion. The implication is that the world in general, and the Antichrist specifically, will be in rebellion against God. The spirit of rebellion already works in the world, but the rebellion will worsen as the end approaches.

A time of withdrawal precedes the climax of the rebellion. God will withdraw something, or someone, who currently restrains, controls, or prevents the reign of the lawless Antichrist. The nature of the restrainer isn’t detailed, and that has led to much speculation. In the modern era evangelical Christians have stated that the church and all believers are taken away (the Rapture) allowing the lawless man to flourish. But that doesn’t seem to fit well with Paul’s statement that Jesus’ return on the day of the Lord will not happen until after the lawless man is revealed. Jesus himself, in Matthew 24, said that his return would be after the distress of the tribulation.

“Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” Matthew 24: 29-31

Perhaps the Holy Spirit is the restraining influence that is withdrawn. Some suggest the archangel, Michael, who Daniel described as standing up for Israel, is the restrainer who will sit down and allow the tribulation to begin. The only thing we can know for certain is that God remains in control of the timing.

The result of the lawless man’s rebellion is a time of idolatry. He proclaims himself to be God in the flesh, making that claim in God’s own temple (many believe this is an end-times Jewish temple rebuilt in Jerusalem), and requiring all the world to worship him.

These dramatic events will happen because it is a time of delusion. There are two fronts to the delusion. Satan produces counterfeit signs and wonders through the lawless man, but God also deludes the lawless people who have continually rejected the truth of his word. Like the sinners in Paul’s introduction to the book of Romans, God gives them over to their false beliefs, allowing them to plunge deeper into the lies of Antichrist. The acceptance of Satan’s lies results in a time of condemnation as God judges the wickedness of all those who have rejected the truth and the offer of salvation.

The hope Paul proclaims is that the evil times will be cut short. A time of destruction awaits Antichrist, because the time of Jesus’ return will end his ruleLike the Thessalonians, we remain hopeful in spite of such future tribulation because we have been “saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth” (2:13), if we “stand firm and hold to the teachings” (2:15). Therefore, for believers, difficult times will also be times of “eternal encouragement” (2:16).

Why then would Paul try to convince them that the day of the Lord has not come by pointing out that a man of lawlessness has not been revealed whom they were never to see anyway? If Paul believed in a pre-tribulational rapture, all he had to say was: the day of the Lord can’t have come yet because we are all still here. Instead what he does say is exactly what you would expect him to say if he believed in a single post-tribulational coming of the Lord. He says that the day of the Lord can’t be here yet because the apostasy and man of lawlessness who appears during the tribulation haven’t appeared to us yet. – John Piper

Image by Colin Davis on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Joyfulness is God’s will for you: I Thessalonians


Today’s reading: I Thessalonians 1-5.

“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.” – Tecumseh

Do you want something fresh and practical? First Thessalonians is all that. Paul wrote it to a baby church during the whirlwind of his second missionary journey. There are many exhortations in it, but this one stands out:

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. I Thess. 5:16-18

The New Testament is full of grace, putting to rest the old covenant with its law, but it is also full of commands. Fulfilling those commands is a huge part of knowing and doing God’s will. There are three parts to this command, but they complement and strengthen one another. They form an upward spiral that keeps us moving in the right direction. We pray because of our joy in the Lord, giving thanks as we pray, and our gratitude leads to greater joy. Personally, I struggle with remaining joyful and with praying consistently, so it’s interesting to see the connection Paul makes between prayer, gratitude, and joy.

Joy. If we are commanded to be joyful always, then it’s clear that our joy should be independent of circumstances. Happiness depends on what happens, but joy comes from the understanding of our right relationship with God. The writer of Ecclesiastes said we should be joyful because of God’s approval (Ecc. 9:7). The Psalms are full of exhortations to be joyful as we praise God and love him because of his character and actions: his protection of us, how he helps us and blesses us, his greatness, and his provision for us. Paul found reason to be joyful in the lives of other Christians who blessed him. Finally, we are joyful because of the hope we hold, through faith, for all that is yet to come because of God’s grace.

“The out-and-out Christian is a joyful Christian. The half-and-half Christian is the kind of Christian that a great many of you are – little acquainted with the Lord. Why should we live halfway up the hill and swathed in the mists, when we might have an unclouded sky and a radiant sun over our heads if we would climb higher and walk in the light of His face?”  – Alexander Maclaren

Prayer. Paul admonishes us to pray without ceasing. Prayer shouldn’t be limited to the morning or bedtime, but as Brother Lawrence showed us, we should realize that God is with us no matter what we are doing. As our guest beside us we should be always talking with him about the things that are happening in our lives and in our thoughts. God has said that he is pleased when we pray. We can pray continually as we share our needs, praise him for his character, confess our sins, and give thanks for our many blessings.

 “Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still.” E.M. Bounds

Thanks-giving. Gratitude is the fuel that fires this upward spiral and enlarges our joy. As joy exists free of circumstances, so we are commanded to be thankful at all times knowing that our present and future are secure in God’s hands. No matter how difficult the moment, God will work all things out to our good, just as he did in the life of Joseph in Egypt. We praise God for his wonderful character, but we thank him for his mighty actions on our behalf. We can thank him for the past – how he saved us. We can thank him for the present – how he is working through events to make us more like Jesus. We can thank him for the future – how we will soon be in his presence.

“We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.” ― H.A. Ironside

Delight in God is a miracle. This is what it means to be a Christian, and being a Christian is not a mere choice to believe a fact. Being a Christian is believing the truth of God because there is a spiritual apprehension of its beauty and glory. When that soul-satisfying glory starts to fade, we must fight off the deadly effects of worldliness and immerse ourselves in the Word where his glory is revealed, and then pray and pray and pray, “O satisfy me in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that I may sing for joy and be glad all my days.” So you can see how prayer and the Word are tied together this week. The Word is the means God uses to fill our minds and hearts with truth about himself that makes us fruitful and durable in drought and prosperous into eternity. Nobody becomes like a tree planted by water by prayer alone. It is by the delighting in the Word and meditating on it day and night. But nobody is inclined to the Word, or sees spiritual wonders in the Word, or is satisfied with the Word, who does not pray and pray and pray the way the psalmists did. So I plead with you to pray without ceasing this year. – John Piper

Image by John St John on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

Clothed in Christ: Colossians 3


Today’s reading: Colossians 1-4.

“What should Christians wear?”

That’s a trick question. This devotion isn’t about the earthly, material clothing that changes according to the weather and style. It’s about the eternal, spiritual clothing that believers should put on each day. After some heavy theology, today we’re getting practical. Paul kept coming back to the analogy of putting on Jesus Christ, so it must be important. I’ve rounded up some great writing on this topic by some well-known pastors to inspire you to dress well.

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:9-12

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. Romans 13:14

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Galatians 3:27

John MacArthur

…you can’t crash the Kingdom without the proper robe. You can’t get in unless you have the garment. And what’s the garment? You know what the garment is? It’s what? It’s righteousness. And that’s Isaiah 61:10, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.” And so, when you came to Christ you put on Christ in the sense that you put on His righteousness, you put on His holiness, you put on His nature. And God sees you as righteous in Jesus Christ. It’s a beautiful, beautiful picture. And you will notice, won’t you, from the parable on, even through the Pauline epistles, this imagery of putting on a garment as emblematic of putting on the righteousness of Christ. So when you became a believer you did that…and the best word to use is in a positional sense. You did that before God and God sees you in Christ. We receive then a declared righteousness…But that brings us to the second dimension. Putting on Jesus Christ also is an exhortation given to believers. How can you say to a believer who has already put on Christ, put on Christ? Very simply. What he is saying is this has happened to you positionally, let it happen to you practically. I used to think of it in terms of an athlete who puts on the uniform of a great team. It’s one thing to wear the uniform and be on the team, it’s something else to play up to the reputation of the team. So act like it.

Ray Stedman

Listen to Robert Schuller, and other advocates of “positive thinking” or “possibility thinking.” What are they saying? Just what this paragraph says, “Put on these positive qualities. Think positively. Face the day with courage and confidence.” As we saw in our last study, “thumbs up” is to be the symbol of the Christian life. These men make a strong and biblical plea to do this. But the problem with their message, and the reason why oftentimes their plea is misleading, is that they fail to make the careful distinction that Scripture makes between the old man and the new man. These positive admonitions are not addressed to the old life. That is to be put away. There is a negative quality of living, which precedes the positive. We must reject this appeal which comes to us so easily from our past experience. It still haunts us as new creations in Christ, because it has taken over our brain patterns and past programming. We still, all too easily, play over in our minds the old movies of the past. But this is to be put aside. If we do that, then we can respond to these exhortations to be what God has now made us to be. So, when you start your day, begin this way. Put away the old reactions and then clothe yourself, put on deliberately, in your thinking, these seven qualities that reflect the life and temperament of Jesus.

John Piper

You have already passed from darkness to light. You have already been transferred from the dominion of darkness to the kingdom of Christ. You are already new creatures in Christ. You are already children of God. What remains is for you to dress like it, to live like it, and to fight like it. The clothes, the fight do not make you a child of the light. They show that you are a child of the light.

This is plain in the flow of the book of Romans—that chapters 1–11 precede chapters 12 and 13. First we get right with God by faith in what Christ has done. Then we dress and live and fight like people of the day. But this is even more clear in two other places where Paul talks about putting on the clothes of a believer. Listen to Colossians 3:12: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” You are already God’s chosen ones, God’s holy ones, God’s loved ones. Now he says, put on the character that reflects your new identity. And the one other place in all the New Testament where Paul speaks of “putting on Christ” describes it as something already done. Galatians 3:27, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Baptism is an acting out of what happens by faith in conversion. And what happened was: You put on Christ, once and for all. Which means that the command to put on Christ is a call to become what you are—a Christ wearer.

So keep in mind as we move forward now that putting on the armor of light or putting on Christ in verses 12 and 14 are not instructions to become a Christian all over again. Paul is calling us to be what we are in Christ. You are children of the light, children of the day. Now dress like it, live like it, fight like it.

Charles Spurgeon

The command before us is given to those who have the imputed righteousness of Christ—who are justified—who are accepted in Christ Jesus. “Put you on the Lord Jesus Christ” is a word to you that are saved by Christ and justified by His righteousness! You are to put on Christ and keep putting Him on in the sanctifying of your lives unto your God. You are, everyday, to continually more and more wear as the garment of your lives the Character of your Lord.

I now wish to show the description given in Colossians 3—from the 12th verse. I will take you to the wardrobe for a minute and ask you to look over the articles of our outfit. See here, “Put on therefore”—you see everything is to be put on—nothing is to be left on the pegs for the moths to eat, nor in the window to be idly stared at. You put on the whole armor of God. In true religion everything is designed for practical use. We keep no garments in the drawer—we have to put on all that is provided. “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, tender mercies, kindness.” Here are two choice things—mercy and kindness—silken robes, indeed! Have you put them on? I am to be as merciful, as tender-hearted, as kind, as sympathetic, as loving to my fellow men as Christ Himself was.

See, next, we are to put on longsuffering and forbearance. Some men have no patience with others—how can they expect God to have patience with them? If everything is not done to their mind they are in a fine fury…Our Lord was full of forbearance. “Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you become wearied and faint in your minds.” Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and bear and forbear. Put up with a great deal that really ought not to be inflicted upon you—and be ready to bear still more rather than give or take offense.

“Forgiving one another, if any man has a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also do you.” Is not this heavenly teaching? Put it in practice! Put you on your Lord! Have you fallen to loggerheads with one another, and did I hear one of you growling, “I’ll, I’ll, I’ll——”? Stop, Brother! What will you do? If you are true to the Lord Jesus Christ you will not avenge yourself but give place unto wrath. Put the Lord Jesus on your tongue and you will not talk so bitterly! Put Him on your heart and you will not feel so fiercely! Put Him on your whole character and you will readily forgive—not only this once, but unto 70 times seven!

“And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfection.” Love is the belt which binds up the other garments and keeps all the other Graces well braced and in their right places. Put on love—what a golden belt! Are we all putting on love? We have been baptized into Christ and we profess to have put on Christ—but do we daily try to put on love? Our Baptism was not true if we are not buried to all old enmities. We may have a great many faults but God grant that we may be full of love to Jesus, to His people and to all mankind!

How much I wish that we could all put on, and keep on, the next article of this wardrobe! “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Oh, for a peaceful mind! Oh, to rest in the Lord! I recommend that last little word, “Be thankful,” to farmers and others whose interests are depressed. I might equally recommend it to certain trades people whose trade is quite as good as they could expect. “Things are a little better,” said one to me—and at that time he was heaping up riches. When things are extremely well, people say they are “middling,” or a “little better.” But when there is a slight falling off they cry out about, “nothing doing, stagnation, universal ruin.” Thankfulness is a rare virtue—but let the lover of the Lord Jesus abound in it. The possession of your mind in peace, keeping yourself quiet, calm, self-possessed, content—this is a blessed state. And in such a state Jesus was—therefore, “put you on the Lord Jesus Christ.” He was never in a fret or fume. He was never hurried or worried.

Image by Kent Wang on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0

Working out salvation: Philippians


Today’s reading: Philippians 1-4.

“Am I really saved?”

“It is true that we need to make a one time decision to follow Jesus. But a true one time decision is followed by the every day decision to follow Jesus.” ― Mike McKinley, Am I Really a Christian?

The tension between salvation by faith and the necessity of obedient living is one of the major themes in the New Testament. It’s also a keynote in Philippians. Paul wrote it from a Roman prison thirty years after his conversion, so he spoke from a lifetime of experience with discipleship. I’m sure he had seen true faith, pretend faith, those who had grown steadily in discipleship, and those who had fallen away. Therefore he can say with authority, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” He also says, honestly, that he wants, “somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” He “presses on toward the goal to win the prize.” It almost sounds like Paul was unsure of his salvation. Was he?

Paul’s own words declare his confidence that he was bound for heaven. He told the Philippians that for him to live was Christ and to die was gain. He comforted them by saying that God, who had begun the good work of saving them, would be faithful to complete it. Paul declared in 2 Timothy, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” In Romans 10 he said, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” He also declared in Ephesians 2, “by grace you have been saved through faith.” Not much uncertainty in those words.

And Paul went on to say that he had given up everything, including the law (works), in order to gain the righteousness that is by faith.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. Philippians 3:7-9

Then he continued by describing the ongoing process of his discipleship.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:10-14

Paul had already stated the certainty of his salvation, so what was he talking about when he said he wanted to “somehow…attain to the resurrection” and that he intended to press on until he took hold of the prize?

  • He was describing sanctification, the growth in holiness that God desires for all believers.
  • He knew perseverance in the faith was essential to salvation (see Hebrews 3:12-14).
  • He was describing the difficulties all believers face in this world that is now under Satan’s control.
  • He was describing a desire to be more than saved – to be as much as possible like Christ.
  • Though certain of God’s grace, he wanted to know Christ firsthand, by experiencing his suffering and living in his righteousness.
  • Though certain of God’s grace, he was humbled by his own sinfulness and the great blessing which God offered him. “So his apparent uncertainty here of reaching the goal is not distrust of God. It is distrust of himself. It emphasizes the need he feels of watchfulness and constant striving, lest ‘having preached to others’ he ‘be found a castaway.’ ” Expositor’s Greek Testament

The Cambridge Bible sums up this tension well: “The mystery lies, as it were, between two apparently parallel lines; the reality of an omnipotent grace, and the reality of the believer’s duty. As this line or that is regarded, in its entire reality, the language of assurance or of contingency is appropriate. But the parallel lines, as they seem now, prove at last to converge in glory.”

The thrust of Protestant teaching on salvation is that believers can have assurance of salvation because of the certainty of God’s grace. However, some who believe still struggle with assurance:

This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it. Westminster Confession of Faith

Also, some persons delude themselves with a false assurance, believing they are saved when they are not. This does not take away from the reality of assurance that God affirms, through the down payment of the Holy Spirit, to those who are truly saved:

Although temporary believers and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God, and (in a) state of salvation, which hope of theirs shall perish; yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed. Philadelphia Confession of Faith, Chapter XVIII, Article 1.

In contrast the Catholic Church has stated that it is presumptuous to believe in assurance of salvation. Pope Gregory, in the seventh century, wrote that:

The greater our sins, the more we must do to make up for them …whether we have done enough to atone for them we cannot know until after death … We can never be sure of success … assurance of salvation, and the feeling of safety engendered by it is dangerous for anybody and would not be desirable even if possible.

This thinking was confirmed by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent:

Whosoever shall affirm, that when the grace of Justification is received, the offence of the penitent sinner is so forgiven, and the sentence of eternal punishment reversed, that there remains no temporal punishment to be endured, before his entrance into the kingdom of Heaven, either in this world or in the future world, in purgatory, let him be accursed. Council of Trent, January 1547.

The Council’s statement implies that Christ’s death and my repentance are not sufficient to ensure my salvation, and since I can never know if I have done enough penance or atonement, I will remain in a state of uncertainty regarding salvation until death.  This Catholic position cannot stand up to the whole counsel of God, which provides many means for believers to confirm their salvation, including our perseverance in the faith, the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, the spiritual fruit we bear, the ethical tests of the book of I John, and most of all our confession and repentance.

God knows with certainty whether an individual has received the gift of eternal life by faith in Jesus. Individual’s can test their own salvation by whether their faith meets the tests laid down in scripture (see the references in today’s devotion and especially the letter of I John), and by the witness of the Holy Spirit in their own heart. You and I cannot say with absolute certainty whether another person has eternal life, though the fruit of their life gives strong evidence. Can salvation be lost? I think the question is misguided when it comes to other people since we cannot know their present condition with certainty. As for myself, the most important question is not whether my salvation will remain tomorrow or next year, but whether I am living the life of a born-again disciple of Jesus Christ at this very moment.

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