The Danger Of Wishful Theology
By Charles R. Grisham
What is the greatest tragedy that you can think of? Perhaps you immediately think of death, disease, a plane crash, divorce, or some other painful experience. The human mind can scan the whole gamut of tragic events and situations, yet none compare to thinking you are saved and then finding out too late that you are lost.
I am speaking of the danger of wishful theology, of believing in eternal security and following a course in life that suggests you cannot be lost, no matter what, simply because you had an earlier experience with God.
I am well aware of the arguments, pro and con. I read them over and over, considered their validity, and probed their basis and content. Bible scholars have struggled with law and grace, faith and works, and some of them made dangerous conclusions that shape the thoughts of thousands of people seeking salvation in Jesus Christ. If even one assumption is not scripturally based, it has the potential of deceiving thousands of people, sending them to eternity without God.
We know full well that a person cannot earn his salvation, for the Scriptures tell us that we are saved by grace through faith. We are not told to work for our salvation, but rather to work out our own salvation, and this with fear and trembling. (See Philippians 2:12.)
Inasmuch as God’s program is a love program, He continually works in our behalf to keep us from getting off course. This speaks eloquently as to why so much of the Bible is written instructively, correctively, and projectively!
In recent years, our nation’s space program has been marked by notable victories and accomplishments, but occasionally there have been some unforgettable tragedies. In one of the various space flights, the space vehicle was off course over ninety percent of the time. The thing that enabled them to complete the journey was that the control center plotted their ultimate success. This is so much like our loving God, who does not want anyone to perish. Carefully, He has planned countless provisions to accomplish His will in our lives.
As Christians, we must pray for the people who have been swept into rivers of “easy believism” and “wishful theology.” Our thoughts are totally upon the redemption of every person. The Lord has given us the ministry of reconciliation, not of condemnation.
The Ministry of Grace and Mercy
Perhaps a quick overview of God’s Word, noting past, present, and future initiatives, will help us to understand His grace and mercy better.
We can think of grace as an attitude and mercy as an action.
Grace recognizes that man has no merit of his own to receive salvation; mercy recognizes that man has no potential to produce his own salvation. God had to initiate our salvation: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost”(Titus 3:5). “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20).
God’s grace rushes to our aid when we are tempted and tried. We are told that God’s mercy is renewed every morning: “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassion’s fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).
To the redemptive power of grace and mercy, God gives us faith to overcome every obstacle and every enemy we may encounter in this world: “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (I John 5:4).
Moreover, we have the assurance of His everlasting love that constantly abides with us: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?. . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:35-37).
As a guarantee of God’s all-encompassing plan, He has given us hope, which has the unique ability to both remember and anticipate. (See Lamentations 3:21-23; I John 3:1-3; I Peter 1:3-8; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 6:18-19.)
His grace is universal and unconditional. God no respecter of persons; He is not selective or partial. He invites all of us to come to Him for grace: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). This verse also reminds us that mercy is obtained by a volitional pursuit. We must come to Him to obtain mercy. It is God’s invitation but it is our decision that brings grace into our lives.
There is so much to be learned and experienced about God through an understanding of His grace and mercy. Mercy deals with both responsibility and freedom. A judge on earth can assign a penalty if a
person is found guilty, but he also holds the power to set aside the penalty if certain stipulations are met. In spiritual matters, God in Christ took the place and penalty of the guilty on the cross, and sin will be cancelled, forgiven, and erased-if we meet certain stipulations.
One stipulation is faith, which reaches out and embraces God and His plan of salvation for us. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). We believe God’s Word, accept the Cross as the one redemptive act for sinner, and obey God by repenting, being baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and allowing God to fill us with His Spirit. Faith tells us that anyone can be saved, regardless of their past life of sinfulness.
Let us consider the testimony of the apostle Paul, who wrote: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief…. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (I Timothy 1:12-15). The apostle Paul considered himself to be a chief example of God saving to the uttermost.
Faith reaches out to embrace grace, hope reaches out to embrace mercy, and love reaches out to embrace the peace of God, which passes all human understanding. Grace is not a permissive attitude of God toward sin. Rather it provides a way for a person to be set free from sin so that sin will no longer have a mastery over him. Thus God’s grace is not only unmerited favor but God’s way to destroy the power of sin in a person’s life.
Only a distorted view of God’s power, purpose, and provision for our salvation would cause a person to assume that God will be happy and content to take him the way he is and leave him as he is. God wants to change us from being sinners. He will not allow us to design our own lifestyle and behavior and be His people. We are secure only if we experience true salvation and remain in fellowship with God, following Him by obeying His commands as set forth in Scripture.
In the Gospels Jesus refers to three symbols that mark Christianity: the cross that speaks of self-denial; the yoke that speaks of commitment; and the plow that speaks of involvement in His work.
With respect to the cross, Jesus said, “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38). He further stated: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross. and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matthew 16:24-27).
In this reference to the cross, Jesus taught about the work that takes place after the initial denial of one’s self-that of following the Lord after conversion. But Jesus also placed the cross at the point of conversion: “Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
In the light of Jesus’ teaching, how can anyone possibly think that he can be saved or secure when he does not forsake his past life of sin and become a true disciple? A person cannot be a disciple of Christ unless he follows Christ-hears His words and obeys them. It is pure folly to think that simple acceptance of Jesus Christ can produce salvation separate and apart from self denial and obedience to His plan. These powerful lessons from the Gospels link up perfectly with the teaching we find in the Epistles.
Concerning the yoke, Jesus made a powerful point with respect to identity: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew ll:29). Our identity with Christ involves a developing relationship with Him. Being yoked with the Lord offers us security, and it prepares us to complete the process of discipleship so that we will fully realize the salvation Jesus purchased for us on the cross.
Before we can take the yoke of Christ, there must be a breaking of the yoke of sin that so dominates the unregenerate man. Although there remains a pull to go back to the old life of sin, if a Christian turns away from following Jesus, the work of Calvary is nullified. When one lays aside the yoke Jesus offers, his potential progress is arrested and he soon begins to regress.
The plow speaks of work; it is quite a few steps up the road of life on which a person encounters the cross and the yoke. Many people back out of being a Christian when they encounter the cross; others refuse to accept the yoke; and a few drop their discipleship after they place their hands on the plow. These failures rebel against the process of following Jesus Christ. But following to completion is essential: “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Jesus’ teaching about the cross, yoke and plow addresses indecision and backsliding head on. He used words such as “lose his own soul,” “cannot be my disciple,” and not “fit for the kingdom of God” to describe both those who refused to begin and those who began but fail to continue following Him. These failures contrast with those people Jesus commended: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). These scriptural passages reveal that Jesus did not teach the doctrine of unconditional eternal security. Rather He taught that a person had to endure-to keep following Him-to the end to be saved. (See Matthew 10:22.)
Once Saved, Always Saved?
The record in the Epistles supports the teachings of Christ, and not of those who teach the doctrine of “once saved, always saved.” Paul mentioned people who had forsaken him, such as Demas, who backslid because he loved the present world. (See II Timothy 4:10.) He warned Christians of worldliness, affluence, trials, persecutions, and other things that might confuse believers and even cause them to turn away from following the Lord Jesus. He used his own struggle to encourage others, saying that he constantly denied and subdued his carnal nature so that he would not become a castaway: “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (I Corinthians 9:27).
Paul was not a man who felt that he could do a anything and still be saved. His faith in God made him secure but not careless. He kept pressing onward, protecting his life from the deceit of sin and his relationship with Jesus Christ. To those who turned away from Christ to seek justification by the law of Moses, he wrote that ye are fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).
The Epistles are written to help Christians to stay in a saved condition. A continued obedience to God is biblical security. Wishful thinking or wishful theology does not bring security, regardless ofthe teaching of learned men, for true security comes only fromsound doctrine and a godly lifestyle.
Paul warned the Ephesian elders to feed and to protect the flock of God under their care, for he said that “grievous wolves” shall “enter among you, not sparing the flock,” and from the assembly false teachers would emerge to “draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-30). Why this warning? Because disciples of the Lord could be deceived in turning from truth to follow a lie and be lost.
Paul also warned Christians about their attitude in observing the Lord’s Supper: “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (I Corinthians 11 :29). The word “damnation” describes a serious spiritual condition, not a warning about losing rewards in heaven but a warning of losing a soul in the lake of fire.
We live in a time when people attempt to so broaden the way to eternal life that all sinners are saved. But can this be? No. A professing Christian with a casual commitment and a recreational worship will not inherit eternal life. But those who in faith cling to the Lord Jesus in conversion, commitment, and consecration are secure in their salvation. Nothing in this world has the power to rob them of the reward of eternal life.
Our security is not in wishful theology but in a Christ-centered commitment to follow Him always.
(The above information was published by the PENTECOSTAL HERALD, October 1993)
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