Thursday, October 1, 2009

Perseverance of the Saints in the Synoptic Gospels

Before beginning to exposit several passages, I want to list those that I will not be addressing (except here) that some may have found relevant. The reason for which I have not included these are also outlined:

Matthew 5:13 – losing saltiness refers to the effects of one’s discharging from the ministry (cf. 1 Corinthians 9), not from salvation.
Matthew 6:14-15 – I find this passage to be analogous to John 3:16. While love for God and love for one's neighbor may be conditions for salvation, this would not mean that one who has been reborn to a lively hope can fail to do these things. Similarly, that belief is a condition of salvation does not mean one who is elect can fail to come to faith. In both instances, Jesus simply states what will happen if one (he speaks indiscriminately, referring to elect and non-elect alike) does or doesn't fulfill a certain condition.
Matthew 18:23-35– A reprieve from the settlement of a debt carried with it an implication the debtors of the debtor in question would in turn be cancelled. So, when the servant refused to even be patient with his debtor, he was jailed until all he owed the master was paid. We see here that the cancellation was clearly provisional, unlike those who have no condemnation in Christ. Disanalogies are often found in parables, usually because another point is being emphasized (cf. Luke 15:11-32, below).
Matthew 21:28-32 – the first son repented, the second son was a hypocrite. Obviously, neither were saved when they made their initial replies to the father.
Matthew 21:33-46 – Hateful, repeatedly murderous servants evince themselves as having never been saved.
Matthew 22:1-14 – those who were called to the wedding banquet but refused (referring to the Jews, who rejected Jesus) were not saved. In fact, it was destined that they fall so that the chosen Gentiles could be grafted in (Romans 11).
Matthew 24:45-51 – the servant in charge of the Lord’s house is the teacher, the man of the church in a position of authority. That one is among a covenant community does not imply that man is saved: note his current behavior in verses 48-49 and lack of a description as to behavior which would even hint that this false teacher had ever been saved.
Matthew 25:1-13 – the procrastinating virgins were not allowed in because they insulted the bridegroom by jeopardizing his wedding ceremony, so these virgins could not have “saved,” for they used their time on earth poorly.
Matthew 25:14-30 – those who excuse their slothfulness on the day of the Lord are really trying to obfuscate the fact that they considered religion to be an unprofitable enterprise, unworthy of their attention.
Matthew 26:31-35 – though useful for establishing that “to fall away” does not have to refer to a loss of salvation, it is a point not worth belaboring. 
Mark 9:20-25 – although it would be hard to imagine a father could lose his faith after having overcome it so that on the occasion of it Jesus would cast out an evil spirit from his son, but I do not find any surrounding evidence that would suggest it to be impossible.
Luke 12:35-48 – Verse 42 makes clear that Jesus’ parable is referring to stewards who have been placed in places of leadership, and that they (the disciples) are examples of the good steward. Verses 44-48 are alternate hypotheticals. Notice in each new hypothetical the steward’s reply to the master’s original command denotes the steward is necessarily different from those other ones in the parable; that is, Jesus’ disciples could not have been the one’s who He intends to suggest are the bad or ignorant stewards. For example, how could they have been the “ignorant” steward after the explanation of this parable? But even the leader ignorant of this command to be watchful will be saved (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:15). Only the false teacher will be assigned a place with the unbelievers, and we are given no indication one who was a good, watchful steward may become a disobedient, procrastinating one. What good steward could ever say in his heart the things found in verse 45? Will we throw out 1 John and the whole to comply with such a contorted interpretation? See also the relation between 1 Peter and the soils, which I present later.
Luke 13:5-9 – This passage reminds me of 2 Timothy 2:25-26 in all of its aspects. The man with the fig tree in his vineyard (leader with an opposer amongst his flock) begs patience that he might prune the fig tree (gently instruct) so that it might become fruitful (having been granted repentance unto the knowledge of truth), escaping the cutting down that would have otherwise happened (excommunication and perishing – cf. 13:5 – due to his being captive of the devil’s will). As we know the adversary cannot touch regenerates, and it strikes me as clear to whom this parable refers.
Luke 15:11-32 – Reasons why I think the prodigal son was not saved are many: 

1. The surrounding parables refer to those who are unsaved (cf. 15:10)

2. His rash, sinful actions would point to the lifestyle of an unbeliever.

3. Verse 22 is typologically significant, for it represents initial - not returning - blessings one receives upon repentance and belief: being robed with the righteousness of Christ and being sealed with the Spirit.

4. The son would not have been adopted (as believers are), so this aspect of the parable is not analogous to soteriology, the inheritance indicated is likewise not analogous to eternal life, and the final disanalogy, no believer was “always been with” God (verse 31).

5. He was “dead” and “lost” (verse 32), implying he was not saved.

Having dealt with these, then, here then, are what I think are the primary passages, including citations of smaller synoptic passages, concerning perseverance and apostasy. Unless otherwise indicated, I cite from Matthew: 

Matthew 7:15-27 (Luke 6:43-45)

In a warning to His disciples to beware of false prophets, we read that Jesus says we may know who is a false prophet by the fruits he produces. Obviously, to know that a wolf is in sheep’s clothing, we need to know the difference between the types of fruit one may produce. A good tree produces good fruit, a bad tree produces bad fruit. We know that a fruit is good or bad by whether it is a fruit which pleases God (Colossians 1:10) and is in accordance with His commands (1 John 3:22-24) or if it is a fruit which is a lawless action (Matthew 7:23) or, equivalently, a sin (1 John 3:4). 

It is for this reason the prophets to whom Jesus refers are “false.” For even though they will, on the day of judgment, claim to have prophesied in God’s name and done miracles, they – the tree itself (Matthew 3:10, 12), not the fruit (1 Corinthians 3:15) – will be thrown into fire. For even assuming they prophesied correctly (which, if you think about it, is not difficult: atheist A prophesies C, atheist B prophesies ~C… is either atheist a prophet of God?) the fact that they attempted to lead people astray from God’s will – which is obedience to His commandments – proves they are false prophets (Deuteronomy 13:1-5), proves they produced bad fruit, proves they are bad trees, and justifies their second death. 

The most telling and relevant statement to the issue of their salvation that Jesus makes about false prophets or those who claim to have done these great things in God’s name is that He never knew these people. This let’s us know several things about such people:

1. They never truly loved God (1 Corinthians 8:3).

2. They never were born again (1 John 4:7).

3. They were never saved (John 3:3).

If Jesus goes so far as to refute the idea these people were ever saved, how much more do we know that those who don't or can't make up some such excuse were never saved? If those who build their houses poorly – those who listen but do not practice - will have the merest of winds (i.e. turmoil) evince that their “faith” was always barren and useless, how much more do we know those who have no foundation at all can never have been saved?

Matthew 10:5-42 (Mark 6:7-13, 8:34-38, Luke 9:1-5, 23-27, 14:25-35)

Before sending His disciples to drive out demons and heal sickness, Jesus gave them a set of instructions to follow, some of which were that they: 

1. go to the Jews exclusively.

2. proclaim that which they were given to speak, including that the kingdom of heaven was near.

3. do miracles and good deeds.

4. work for what they needed.

5. be shrewd and innocent, blessing the receptive and fleeing from persecution.

6. be on guard against gossipers.

7. stand firm against man’s hatred and divided households.

8. be like Jesus.

9. be unafraid of Satan’s house, but rather He who is sovereign over the body and soul.

10. know that the will of the Father, who keeps sparrows from falling, was much more in their favor.

Jesus culminates these instructions by reminding His disciples that their work was in His name. Any who deny Christ before men will be denied by Jesus before the Father, so they must acknowledge Christ before the men they were to meet. One might understand now why Jesus said that His purpose was not to bring peace but a sword. A message that divides households, requires one to take up his cross – that is, to renounce everything one owns (compare Luke 14:27 to Luke 14:33) – and follow one man, and even demands that one sacrifice his life for it is not going to be a message that will be agreeable to all. 

But that is what the disciples were called to do. That is what a disciple must do by definition (see above Luke passages). Only one who does these things can be called a disciple. Those who left Jesus in John 6 were disciples no more, as some did not even believe while they were disciples (John 6:64-66). It is not enough to be a disciple (or if it is, the context will probably make evident that such discipleship includes reception of Jesus, cf. Matthew 16:24-28), and for this reason Jesus reiterates that it is He who must be received. Only by receiving Jesus does one receive the Father. Fittingly, only by the granting of the Father is one able to receive Jesus in the first place. From this we may discern that those disciples who left in John 6 were not granted to come to Jesus or, as we go back to Luke 14, were not given ears to hear (verse 35). For this they deserve ridicule, for because they did not calculate the cost – that is, they did not truly consider what it means to receive Jesus – their tower was not finished (14:28-29). They valued their worldly possessions and rewards more than they did the truth (unlike the individual who has truly received Jesus, cf. Matthew 13:44-44), and that itself was costly, as we see below.

However, because Jesus told the disciples in the context of Matthew 10 that the will of the Father was that they would be safe – remembering, of course, that Jesus always [indirectly] referred to Judas as a devil even while he was a disciple – one would assume that the disciples, who didn’t by any means piece the puzzle together as quickly they ought to have (though have any of us?), believed they would remain and for this reason were exhorted to be unafraid. 

Jesus exhorts in a similar manner in the concluding passages of Matthew. Upon the revealing of His risen self to His disciples, He commands them to make disciples themselves, teaching them as He Himself had taught [this is a similar to what He had said to them prior to His death, in which He also concluded they would not perish because they would endure (Luke 21:15-19)]. He concludes with the assurance that He would always be with them. Could this have been true had the disciples been able to throw away their faith and not endure?

Rejoining the context of Matthew 10, that this message would be divisive makes Jesus’ next words all the more striking: “Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward.” What is a righteous man’s reward? The Jews believed that the Messiah would restore the people to power. Their minds hearkened to a temporal reward, much like Deuteronomy 30:1-10 (cf. 6:25). When a man who has the power to be a national hero instead acts rather passively towards the authorities, you can see why some darkened minds would have a problem accepting such a man as the Messiah. On top of this, Jesus actually taught the reverse! To follow Him required a renouncing of all things worldly, a willingness to, like the widow in Mark 12:41-44 or woman in Luke 7:40-48, give up everything we “own” for His sake. To have to pick up one’s cross and suffer daily is not what many would call “rewarding.” 

As even the most immature Christian knows, however, the reward to which Jesus refers is not a temporal one at all. The reward for a righteous life is eternal life (and more, depending on one’s dedication and good works following his reception, cf. Matthew 19:29). Adam could have had this reward through obedience to the commandments; because he sinned, he transgressed the law of God and thus transgressed the covenant (Hosea 6:7), meaning the means by which he could have attained eternal life was no longer available. The new covenant, as Jesus explains in so many words, also requires righteousness – and hence, the reward of eternal life – to be merited by one who is righteous. Because all men have sinned, however, this reward cannot be attained by ourselves, it can only be attained by one who has not sinned. Under the new covenant, however, the attaining of eternal life is different in that the attaining of the requisite righteousness is only through reception of the righteous man, Jesus. Hence, those who are weary and burdened (Matthew 11) find rest in Jesus alone, for it is He alone who can and has taken their yoke (paid their penalty, obeyed the covenant for them, etc). And, as a reminder, Jesus had just finished explaining this message of reception involved more than a superficial following: faith begets works when the faith is rooted in its salvific object, Christ. Jesus then makes two final comments He thought the disciples should bear in mind.

The first is that the reception of a righteous man and the [consequential] righteous man’s reward is analogous to the reception of a prophet and the [consequential] prophet’s reward. In what way? What is a prophet’s reward? That depends upon the context. It could refer to Old Testament saints receiving the prophet’s words with regards to the coming of the righteous man, in which case the reward is the same as that of we who receive the righteous man (Matthew 5:12). It could mean an increase in faith in God’s spiritual (and temporal!) blessings (e.g. 1 Kings 17:17-24). The way in which the reception of the rewards are analogous is that it is not through our effort that we receive the reward(s), but rather the prophet’s or righteous man’s. Just as Elijah prophesied the woman’s jar of flour and jug of oil would not run dry, so also did he intercede for her when her son died. 

If the woman did not herself become a prophet, but rather attained the reward (the ends) by acquiring the means unto that ends – through receiving the prophet’s action – then what is it to have the reward of the righteous man if not to have the righteousness inherent to that man imputed to our account by faith in the righteous man? And if the reward for such reception includes an increase in knowledge and faith (1 Kings 17:24), how can one fall from such faith? And if the reward for reception of the righteous man is eternal life, by what means can we lose such a reward? Surely such a loss would not be due to the failure of the righteous man, just as the prophet did not fail to procure the rewards for initial reception. Presumably, the idea is that because one “now” fails to receive the righteous man, he has lost the reward. Of course, this assumes the individual in question ever truly received the righteous man in the first place (again, we have seen in context what it means to “receive” the righteous man; such a reception necessarily begets obedience).

This assumption, however, brings us to the second point Jesus makes, which is that the reward will certainly not be lost. Even if one were to, for the sake of argument, assume that reception of the righteous man could later be revoked – even though the reward for initial reception would seem to also procure an increase in zeal – even if we allow all of this, the assumption upon which all of this is predicated – that the man actually received the righteous man – means that because the righteous was received, even if only for a while, the reward for that reception will not be lost. Such an apostasy would not erase the initial reception, so it would not erase the reward for that initial reception. Of course, no unbeliever will be rewarded, but that is precisely the point. Once the reward is obtained, it can never be lost (cf. Luke 10:42). If the means by which it is obtained (our faith) failed, we find ourselves forced to believe opposites: that the reward will not be lost and that the reward cannot be possessed. Hence, we must conclude the means by which the reward is obtained cannot be lost, or if the reward will not be procured by an individual, the individual cannot ever have had the means by which one obtains a reward which cannot be lost. This conclusion fits well with what we read earlier from the end of 1 Kings 17. The spirit with which one gives the cup of water which evinces his eternal reward is that spirit which cannot be lost.

Matthew 13:10-30 (Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15)

The plant metaphor is a motif found throughout Scripture. As far back as Isaiah 60:21-61:3, we see that being planted by God signifies His work to make us holy and inheritors of Zion to the ultimate end: that God may be glorified. We would not expect God would take lightly such an enterprise, so we must tread carefully when it is suggested God does not fulfill His purpose. This could mean (if not “does mean”) that God fails to be glorified, in which case we have imputed too much power to man’s will.

Following the parable of the sower, Jesus’ disciples ask Him why He speaks to the crowd in parables. His answer may surprise some: He spoke in parables, not as to make an illustration for them whereby they might better understand His message, but rather so that they would not understand it and not be forgiven. It was not given to them to understand the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven’s secrets; it was, however, given to the disciples. He explained the meaning of the parable, therefore, that His statement “whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance” would be exemplified in the understanding they would gain from it (10:51).

Verse 19 begins Jesus’ exposition of His own words. The first type of soil, that of the path, may well describe the crowd to which He earlier referred. An analogous passage is found in 2 Corinthians 4. Satan “blinds the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ;” he “snatches away what was sown in his heart,” preventing one from understanding the message. If one can’t understand a message whatsoever, one can hardly believe it. Belief requires an object. If the object is veiled, belief in the object is impossible. Those whose minds have not received the shining light of knowledge from the Father – the only source of understanding – cannot be saved unless they have so received (cf. John 3:27, 1 Corinthians 4:7).

Another type of soil on which the seed fall is the rocky soil. These people who “hear” the gospel receive it with joy initially, but, like the two surrounding soils, have no root in its message; hence, they fall away, not from faith, but from the lifestyle which from afar seems to be a godly one. An analogous passage can be found in Mark 11. On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus passed a fig tree which from a “distance” looked to be “in leaf.” Closer examination, however, revealed that it actually had not produced any fruit. The leaves on it gave the impression it was the tree’s time of season for producing fruit, but a passing impression is not indicative of a good tree. Jesus declared that no one would ever eat fruit from the tree, and upon their later leaving the city, Peter observed that the tree itself had withered roots up. The leaves were presumably gone, and compared the impression one might have had earlier, this tree would fool no one as to its state. Pointing this out to Jesus, Jesus replied: “have faith in God.” 

The meaning and relation to the rocky soil should be apparent. The fig tree never actually produced good works, just as the rocky soil, who may look to be in bloom, really only have leaves that give the impression its fruit is good. Jesus could tell the difference, and He said we could as well. Unless one has faith in God, the fruit we produce will always be, at best, fruit which is the result of a coinciding selfish happiness with Scriptural precepts (cf. Matthew 23:28). Such fruit is not good, because such fruit is not the result of faith (Hebrews 11:6). The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) presents an excellent list for comparison. Can the fruit of rocky soil produces appear to be the result of persecution for righteousness (et. al.)? Of course. The determining motive of the rocky soil whereby an action is considered such, however, does not have the second (hence, nor the first) greatest commandment in mind, so the fruit is not actually a begetting from persecution for righteousness. What motive might there be? Pursuit of righteousness by works of the law, self-deception with regards to exactly who is persecuting (namely, the rocky soil is persecuting itself for its false motives), or some other motive that is, in the final analysis, a selfish one. There is no reward in heaven for these people.

In 13:22, Jesus refers to a group of people who understand the implications of Jesus’ words insofar as they realize they must set aside worldly desires and follow him, but will not let go of those desires, rendering the seed inert. In their foolishness, they cannot overcome the fear that a God who clothes the grass can too clothe them, even though these are only passing possessions anyways, whereas we work for what is eternal (Luke 12:22-34). These people have not received Jesus in the manner that has been established must be done (cf. Matthew 10), because, like the other soils, increase was not given [to their understanding] after the watering and sowing (1 Corinthians 3:6-9). They are like the rich man who would not sell all his possessions, because God did not so enable or choose him to understand and desire the things of the kingdom (Matthew 19:21-26, Luke 1:74-75, 12:32). These soils will be uprooted, because they were not planted by God (Matthew 15:13). Their root is not in Christ, so they have no root in anything lasting.

Can any of these soils possibly be the result of seeding to which Peter refers in 1 Peter 1? Did these people “obey the truth” when their life underwent the “trials” those with faith face? Does the “fire” of these trials burn fruit or trees? Were these people’s “faith” “guarded” by “God’s power” unto the “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” for those who have been “reborn unto a lively hope”? If not, as I think is plain, how can one purport these unregenerates as ever having been saved (John 3:3)?

Turning now to the reception of the seed by the good soil, Psalm 92:12-15 seems like an appropriate segue between Matthew 7, 10, and 13. The good soil is that which is planted by the Lord, who gives the increase which leads to “flourishing… and yielding of fruit” in His house. In what way has God planted them such that they produce this good fruit? Why, by their receiving the righteous man, of course (cf. Matthew 10)! Recall the reward for that reception. Now witness the good crop that reception brings, many times over that which was sown. This is the primary reason why, when the final judgment comes, sheep will be judged and rewarded according to works (Matthew 25:34-46). The sheep may face temporary trials that cause them to falter (in which case their works are burned), but because they are sheep, their shepherd seeks his sheep which has gone astray that he might be brought to the other 99 sheep [or covenant community] (Matthew 18:12-14). Are we so bold as to purport that the will of the Father, which is that no sheep will perish, can be thwarted by the wrenched hypothetical that the sheep itself can revoke his status as a sheep? But even this mental gymnastic implies one’s status as a sheep is dependent upon one’s faith rather than God’s electing, which is simply inconsistent with the complete testimony of Jesus (Matthew 11:27, John 6:37-45, 63-65, 8:32-47, 10:3-5, 16, 26-29). That God will save His people from their sin (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:68) promises a simultaneous [re]turn to good works, for just as a city on a hill cannot be hidden, so a lamp is not put under a bowl, but rather is put in a place that accentuates its light (Matthew 5:14-16).

So, it is not that the works save, but because works are necessarily consequents to that which saves, it is at least indifferent whether we are judged by faith or works. One implies the other, for as has been shown (and is repeated, cf. Matthew 12:33-37), it is by our fruits the tree is known. Works – or to be more precise, lack of good works – leave the goats with no excuse, because we know from Matthew 7 many will try to pass off themselves as having been believers. As it is the producing of good works which proves one has passed the test of faith, it is in fact proper that we should be judged according to our works. Obedience to God’s commandments includes, as we saw at the end of Matthew 10, brotherly love. Those who do not obey this commandments cannot obey the greatest commandment (Matthew 5:21-48, 7:12). Those who do not strive to obey the greatest commandment cannot possibly be the good soil which perseveres (Luke 8:15) and yields a plethoric crop, and we have come full circle.

Jesus reiterates the explanation of this parable to his disciples by actually presenting a similar parable (which is itself explained in verses 36-43). Good seed is sown, Satan sows misunderstanding, worry, and trials, the wheat sprouts (equivalent to producing good works or fruit), and the weeds are made evident because they do not sprout heads. Jesus even gives a reason that it is not decreed that the weeds, bad soil, bad trees, etc. are not cut down nor burned immediately upon their discovery: “while pulling the weeds, the wheat may be rooted up with them.” This is a counterfactual. It is what could have happened were the eternal decree of God such that He desired to cut down the weeds and burn the bad trees immediately. As that it is not God’s eternal decree, however, that these weeds and bad trees be burned until the day of the Lord, we cannot say that the wheat may be uprooted. In fact, given that Jesus reasons the weeds should not be cut because wheat might be uprooted, I would argue we may consider the prevention of the uprooting of the wheat (believers) to be a particular “end” He desires to effect such that He eternally decreed particular means (i.e that the weeds should not yet be cut) so as to ensure that end. This would be similar to Matthew 24:22, which first states the counterfactual (paraphrased) “if the last days were not shortened, no one would survive.” Jesus then states the actual eternal decree, which is that the days be shortened for the elect’s sake. This would explain why even in those last days when false prophets will try, as though it were possible, to deceive the elect (Matthew 24:24), they will fail: because God will not delay in His response for the elect’s sake (Luke 18:7, 2 Peter 3). His purpose for not sifting the weeds out now will not be overturned by His having not sifted out the weeds.

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