A Dialogue on Christian Theology

The following was an inbox dialogue I recently had with a friend named Uche on Facebook. We frequently chat on various issues and this is one discussion that I feel needs to be read by other Christians. I have his express permission to publish our exchange.

One of the purposes of Christian apologetics is to help Believers deal with their doubts and others issues they are struggling with in their journey of faith, and this is a conversation that brings out the reason why Christian leaders should ensure that they feed their congregation with the solid meat of God’s Word. They should also watch out for wolves in sheep clothing who shipwreck the faith of young Believers with false teachings and reasoning that pit people against God’s Word.

Uche: I’ve got just one question for now.

Victor: Yes go ahead.

Uche: The Old Testament writers never had a true understanding of our Father in Christ and sometimes mistook his personality with that of an angel. Yes/No.

Victor: No, I won’t call that a lack of “true understanding.” The Hebrew word translated as “Angel” in the OT is malak. When the Jesus manifested to them, it’s rendered as “THE Angel of the LORD” meaning “the Messenger of God,” and He received worship. This manifestation of Christ is called “Theophany” – before He came in the flesh. But when it was otherwise, it’s rendered “AN Angel of the LORD.” This distinction was preserved in the Revised Standard Version, but not in the KJV, so it can be a bit confusing. But again, an angel never receives worship

Uche: So you Mean God tempts humans. Genesis 22:1 [And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am]

Victor: God tested Abraham’s obedience. [“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.” NIV]. He didn’t tempt him. God tested him to know where his loyalty lies, whether he loved Isaac more than Him. And Abraham passed the test. He obeyed God perfectly. Temptation however is different. It’s aimed at leading a person into sin.

But because God is holy; that’s one of His attributes, He doesn’t tempt, rather He delivers His people from falling into temptation. Also, the obedience of Abraham modeled and foreshadowed the relationship of Jesus to the Father and the substitute sacrifice He made for us at the cross.

Uche: My version reads “tempt.” Why would a God who has a foreknowledge of everything, knows the beginning and end of the specimen he created still tempt/test them if he knows their end product?

Victor: Sorry what Bible version do you use?

Uche: KJV.

Victor: KJV is not a very accurate translation. I’ve documented that in at least 2 articles (one/two). In fact, if you are going to have a clear understanding of the Bible, you will need to read a modern English Bible. The 17th century [Elizabethan]  English of the KJV has a way of confusing a modern reader.

Now, God has foreknowledge of the future (Acts 15:18) but He is not the cause of what He foreknows. That God foreknows a thing doesn’t mean He made it happen. Foreknowledge is not the same as predestination. There is one ability God has given man and it’s called free will. Man must choose to obey God. God cannot compel man to love Him or obey Him.

As a teacher, I know which of my students are smart and when I pose a certain question to them, I know they will give a correct answer. But the onus still lies on them. If they know it and pretend not to, or refuse to study in order to give the right answer, I cannot be blamed for that. Even though God knows the future, He still tests (not tempt!) our hearts.

Uche: You said temptation leads into sin. Test leads to what? Because I know it has two sides. Temptation also worketh patience if rightly approached.

Victor: Tests can either come out positive or negative. Abraham passed the test and He was blessed by God as a result. There’s no promotion without examination. There’s no servant of God in Scripture that God didn’t test one way or the other. Even temptation is a reality. When we succumb to it, we sin, but when we stand, we gain more strength. The Bible says God will not allow us to be “tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

Again, that James 1:3 you quoted is from the KJV and that’s why you are still being confused. It reads: “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (to verse 4, NIV).

Uche: Why will you perform an experiment you already have inference to?

Victor: That’s why it’s called a test. If I want to test for the presence of Carbon (IV) oxide in a solution, I know the experiment to conduct and my inference, whether it’s positive or negative. What I get tells me the final answer I need to know. God uses life’s situations, experiences, challenges and oppositions to test us and try our hearts.

He says this to the children of Israel: “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3-4).

Uche: So you mean Jesus tested Abraham … Vs. 11 and 12 “thine only son from me?”

Victor: Exactly. Read those two verses again

Uche: Hmm. In Job 1:6, what was Satan doing in the presence of God?

Victor: Now, the events of the time of Job is the earliest in history and this was the first mention of Satan. At that time, he had access to heaven and could accuse the people of God (see Rev. 12: 9-12). So when the angels were before God, he too was there. From the use of the term “present themselves before the LORD” in Job 1, it indicates that the angels were in worship (1 Kgs. 22:19-22; Isa. 6; Dan. 4:25-26)

Uche: I thought the name Satan was given to him as a Rebel. Originally = Lucifer? I think I get your point. Are you saying he was a rebel who was still an angel of God. Accusing brethren till God finally cast him down?

Victor: Yes. The name Satan means adversary. Lucifer means “light bearer.” He was an anointed cherub (a higher order of angel) who rebelled and made many other angels to rebel and side with him. So he still had access to heaven until he was finally cast out of there.

Uche: Okay. What do you say about the bad/evil attributes about our God in the old testament. For example when Elijah sent down fire from heaven to destroy those soldiers. Does it mean God is not interested in the salvation of their souls rather than wasting their lives. Is our God capable of doing everything thing including bad things?

Victor: I have a problem with your usage of the term “bad/evil” for God. Sounds like you are sitting as a judge over God (something many atheists do). Before I answer your question, I must ask you, what have you been reading/soaking in of late?

Uche: Actually nothing, but just the Bible. I’m just confused, it’s looking like the Jesus came in flesh to introduce the real attributes of his father and that the old testament guys were a little bit biased because as I understood the scriptures were initiated to them by the Holy spirit through revelations and visions which they interpreted with their mortal brains. In summary their definitions of God was a holy, untouchable, fearful and a being that can do virtually everything, but Jesus introduced a Father who is loving and caring and can do only righteous things.

Victor: Your allegation of bias against the writers of the OT and interpreting events with their mortal brains indicate that you have rejected (or rejecting) the inspiration of the Old Testament. I am certain you didn’t get those conclusions from the Holy Spirit. From the questions you’ve raised so far, the alarm bells keep ringing in my spirit that you have changed – and I mean on the inside – your thoughts are being negatively influenced by something and you need to get rid of it. For your own good; and seek to be reconnected to the Lord.

Now, with that being said. Let me state that there are attributes of God laid out in Scripture: love, mercy, justice, holiness, faithfulness etc. These attributes work together and there’s no justification for isolating one out of the rest. All through the Bible, we see that God is holy just as He is loving. He created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden but when they sinned, He sent them out. God in His holiness hates sin and cannot look upon sin no matter how little it is (Habakkuk 1:13). His justice demands that He judge sin wherever it is found.

When the people of Sodom and Gomorrah became exceedingly wickedness, He judged them, but spared the righteous Lot and his family. There, we see God’s justice + mercy. When the world in the time of Noah veered into wickedness, He judged them but spared Noah and his family. That’s His justice + mercy/love.

He judged the wicked nations inhabiting the land of Israel and gave it to His people. But when the nation of Israel committed the same sins, He judged them as well and sent them into captivity. Yet in all His dealings, we see His justice and mercy side by side. That’s why Genesis 18:25 says God doesn’t destroy the righteous with the wicked. Unto the righteous He shows His mercy and onto the wicked, His judgement.

Uche: I’m forever on the Lord’s side, #Never_Turning_Back. I’ve been changed by Jesus and the change is from the inside, so you need not to be worried about any negative change. Thank you for your answer, you’ve cleared my confusion.

Actually the problem is the new president of my fellowship. This guy blows my head everyday with all these questions, teaching that those are the tenets of the Gospel, and I’m scared because most of the fellowship members have been infected with this his doctrine. I now have some truths to see if I can be of help.

Victor: I knew it. I sensed you were receiving some inputs from somewhere. Anyway, I feel sorry for the people in your fellowship and the state of your president. This is why there needs to be proper accountability and oversight in Christian fellowships.

There needs to be a spiritual cover from mature Christian leaders assessing what is being taught to the members. We live in an age of dangerous doctrines and we all need to be sharpened and grounded in the Word.

***

Even when Jesus came, He had to take our penalty justice demanded for our sin so that we could have fellowship with God. At the cross we see the revelation of the justice and mercy of God. And Jesus – as compassionate as He is – also whipped the people out of the temple, warned against Hell and spoke of His second coming during which judgement would be executed on the unrighteous (see Luke 19:1-23). God never tolerates sin and He will always reward righteousness. There’s no neutrality in the attributes of God.

The major difference between the servants of God in the OT and the NT was that in the former, God used them more as instrument of judgement, but in the latter as instrument of mercy. In Luke 9:51-56, when the Samaritans refused to accept Jesus, His disciples (James and John) asked if they should command fire to come from heaven and destroy them like Elijah did, but Jesus rebuked them “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”

He didn’t deny that Elijah called down fire on his enemies. Nor did He question that the disciples might have been able to do the same. Instead, He reminded them that they were in a period when God was using His servants in a different way. They were called to be instruments of God’s mercy, rather than His judgement. Just as the Bible presents God to us as our loving Father, it also presents Him as a consuming fire (see 2 Cor. 1:3-5 and Heb. 12:29).

In addition, Romans 11:22 says: “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.” Again, we see the two sides of God: His sternness and kindness. We must have both in mind in our relationship with God. Both are equally real.

There’s a delusion nowadays that the God of the OT is violent, fierce and harsh but the God of the NT is tender, merciful and loving. This is a form of modern Gnosticism (championed by Marcion in the early church), it’s a deadly heresy that ignores God’s dealings of judgement in the NT e.g on Ananias and Sapphira, Elymas the sorcerer and the execution of God’s wrath on the wicked at Christ’s second advent.

Uche: We also have a pastor who is more matured but I guess they are all …. God help us.

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Once Saved, Forever Saved: A Response

The following was my response to a friend on this blog’s Facebook page. It’s about a controversial doctrine that has raged for decades and divided Christians into two major schools of thought: Once-saved-forever-saved (OSAS).

I believe there are sincere Christians on both sides, but the negative consequences of one side (i.e those who teach that salvation can never be lost) is greater than the other side (those who believe salvation can be lost) hence my stance on this has to be clear.

Hi there, is once saved always saved doctrine is right; that repentance is acknowledging God and turning from idols only and repentance not likewise to sins? I listened to this video on repentance by Steve Anderson [an Independent Baptist, KJV-only preacher] during which these questions arose in me. I can’t believe his preaching via his own interpretation but to some point he just seems to [be convincing].

Let me first address the issue of repentance. There are 8 original words for “repent” in Scripture:

Hebrew

1. Nacham – to sigh, breathe strongly, to be sorry (Gen. 6:6; Ex. 13:17; Job 42:6; Jonah 3:10)

2. Shuwb – to turn back (1 Kings. 8:47; Ezk. 14:6)

3. Nocham – regret (Hos. 13:14)

4. Nichum – compassion (Hos. 11:8)

Greek

5. Metanoeo – to change the mind for the better morally, to change the attitude toward sin.

6. Metamellomai – to regret consequences of sin, not the cause (Mt. 27:3; 2 Cor. 7:8)

7. Metanoia – a real change of mind and attitude toward sin and its cause, not merely the consequences of it (Mt. 3:8, 11; Lk. 24:47)

8. Ametameletos – irrevocable (Rom. 11:29; 2 Cor. 7:10)

The surrounding context of the text will show you if the Bible teacher’s definition is right or wrong. For instance, in Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist charged the Pharisees and Sadducees to produce the fruit of repentance. It obviously means turning away from their sins; they weren’t idolaters.

Regarding the Once-Saved-Forever-Saved teaching which has stirred much debates among Believers, I will address it rather succinctly:

1. Salvation is conditional. It didn’t just fall on us like cherries. We had to repent and believe the Gospel in order to be saved at some point. For us to be saved, we had to meet its conditions (John 1:12; 3:16; Rom. 10:9-10). Therefore, a person can reject salvation or lose it.

2. Eternal life is a gift. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). This gift was freely offered to us by God’s mercy and we received it solely by faith, therefore, it can also be rejected and the gift can be revoked if a person is no more in Christ Jesus.

3. God gave us free will – the ability to choose, love, serve, seek and come to Him. Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). He said “These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:40).

In the Old Testament, God also said to His people “Come now and let us reason together…” (Isa. 1:18). Conversely, just as men can come to the Lord, they can also forsake Him. We do not lose our free wills when we become saved.

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve” (Jn. 6:66-67).

In the OT, we are told of one “whose heart turns away from the LORD” (Jer. 17:5) and people who forsook the Lord: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me” (Isa. 1:2)

The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him” (Ezra 8:2)

Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water” (Jer. 17: 13b)

They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor…” (2 Pet. 2:15)

The OT alone furnishes us with examples like David who was renewed again after he committed sin (Ps. 51:1-14). Solomon was once in the Lord as well and experienced His presence, but “his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God” (1 Kgs. 11:4).

Saul is another example of a man who started in the Lord but deviated from His way and eventually died under judgement. God also taught Israel time and again that He would restore them again if they would meet conditions:

Only acknowledge your guilt—you have rebelled against the Lord your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed me,’ declares the LORD. “Return, faithless people,” declares the LORD, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:13-15)

Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the LORD, let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains… (Hos. 6:1-3).

If you, Israel, will return, then return to me,” declares the LORD. If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As surely as the LORD lives,’then the nations will invoke blessings by him and in him they will boast” (Jer. 4:1-2).

5. In the New Testament, we are taught that we have an advocate with the Father (1 Jn. 2:1-2). This Advocate is not only to procure our sins, but also to restore backsliders to God.

Peter was once converted, confessing Jesus as the Son of God and the Christ, which brings the new birth (1 Jn. 5:1; Mt. 16:16). He even had power to preach and heal and had the Spirit in him (Mt. 10:1-20). Jesus predicted his backsliding and re-conversion (Lk. 22:31-34), proving that a converted man can fall away and still be restored as Peter was (Matt. 36:69-75).

Paul taught that God is able to graft men in again (Rom. 11:18-24) and also that even those who have overthrown the faith of others, can come to repentance again (2 Tim. 2:17-26). There are conditions attached to our being in God’s household:

“But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory” (Hebrews 3:6).

“We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end” (Heb. 3;14).

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:2)

Paul also taught that backsliders can be reborn again (Gal. 4:19) as wells as those who had fallen from grace (see Gal. 3:1-5; 5:4). He also commanded us to examine ourselves and restore those who have gone astray:

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor. 13:5).

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10).

If it’s impossible for a Christian to wander away from the Lord, these warnings would have been meaningless and irrelevant.

6. In Luke 15, Jesus taught us that a sheep, coin, or boy could be lost and found again. It would be illogical to argue they could be lost and found but once, or that once being found they could never be lost again. It would be still more unreasonable to argue that if any one of them was lost and never found again that it was never found.

Again, in Luke 17, as Jesus was speaking of the events of the last days, He warned: “Remember Lot’s wife!” (v. 32). We all know what happened to her. She was rescued from Sodom and Gomorrah but she looked back and became a pillar of salt. She left the city of sin but turned back. The same can happen to a believer (Demas is another example). Otherwise, the Lord wouldn’t have cautioned us to remember Lot’s wife.

7. In the NT, the Greek word kataleipo is used for those who forsake, abandon, give up or leave the faith or places they had been in (e.g Heb. 11:27, Mt. 4:13, Acts 2:31; Mt. 16:4, 19:5 etc). The Christian faith is also called the right or straight way (Acts 8:21; 9:11; 13:10). Like I said earlier, one cannot be said to forsake or abandon the straight way if one had not been in it before.

The Greek word planao is used several times to mean “to stray from; wander or go astray” in connection with the Christian faith e.g 2 Peter 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:25; Heb. 5:2; 11:38, 1 John 2:26, Revelation 2:20). A person can escape from the pollution of the world and still be entangled in it again (2 Pet. 2:20).

7. The Bible indicates that people’s names can be blotted out of the book of Life. It means they were previously written in it but were removed when they turned away from the Lord (Rev. 3:5 cf. Exo. 32:33; Isa. 48:19). In the light of Jesus’ teaching that one can be cut from His branch if one is no longer bearing godly fruit (John 15:2), suffice it to say that a person can start out in the Lord and eventually miss heaven.

Let me add that I believe in the divine preservation of the Believer (i.e. God preserving the Believer in the faith) but that is not the complete picture. God will not preserve us against our wills. We must choose to remain steadfast in the Lord.

From my observations, I would conclude that the OSAS doctrine compels those who adhere to it to approach the Bible in a certain inconsistent, slipshod and incoherent way that does violence to sound biblical interpretation. It also tends to promote a lax living towards sin.