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Joe McKeever Christian Blog and Commentary

Joe McKeever

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Joe McKeever says he has written dozens of books, but has published none. That refers to the 1,000+ articles on various subjects (prayer, leadership, church, pastors) that can be found on his website -- joemckeever.com -- and which are reprinted by online publications everywhere. His articles appear in a number of textbooks and other collections. Retired from "official" ministry since the summer of 2009, Joe stays busy drawing a daily cartoon for Baptist Press (www.bpnews.net), as an adjunct professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, writing for Baptist MenOnline for the North American Mission Board, and preaching/drawing/etc for conventions and churches across America. Over a 42 year period, McKeever pastored 6 churches (the last three were the First Baptist Churches of Columbus, MS; Charlotte, NC; and Kenner, LA). Followed by 5 years as Director of Missions for the 135 SBC churches of metro New Orleans, during which hurricane katrina devastated the city and destroyed many churches. Joe is married to Margaret, the father of three adults, and the proud grandfather of eight terrific young people. He holds degrees from Birmingham-Southern College (History, 1962), and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (Masters in Church History, 1967, and Doctorate of Ministry in Evangelism, 1973). Joe's father was a coal miner who married a farmer's daughter. Carl and Lois McKeever, both of whom lived past 95 years of age, produced 6 children, with Joe and Ronnie being ministers. Joe grew up near Nauvoo, Alabama, and attended high school at Double Springs. Joe's life verse is Job 4:4, "Your words have stood men on their feet."

These days in my retirement ministry, most of the churches where I’m invited to preach have these things in common….

  • Almost no man wears a necktie or suit.
  • On the platform you find all kinds of musical instruments.
  • Huge screens are mounted on the front walls, where the words of songs and scripture are projected.
  • Many people in the congregation read Scripture from their phones.
  • Worship leaders are often wearing jeans and sneakers.
  • In the announcements, you hear of mission trips to foreign countries, regardless of the size of the church.
  • Fewer and fewer hymns are being sung, and when the old ones are brought out, they’re given new treatments. Mostly, though, what’s being sung in worship was written in the past 10 or 12 years.
  • Churches announce on their outside signs “blended” services, “contemporary” services, and/or “traditional” services.

The times, they are a-changing, friend. (And they are not through changing either. So you youngsters should not get too attached to the present innovations.)

If you cannot adapt, you may find yourself living in the 1950s.

The other weekend I worshiped with an interesting church in Jacksonville, Florida. I have not known that church previously, but had learned a little of their story before arriving.

As the neighborhood changed around them, most of their members had moved away. Since the church failed to make the necessary adjustments to reach new residents of their community, it was slowly dying. So, not long ago, the remaining membership–mostly senior adults–asked a larger (and healthy, thriving) church in the area to take them over. They would be willing to make whatever changes were necessary to turn this around.

That takes great courage, let me say.

Most “older” churches cannot do this. The members are so wed to the ways of yesterday and the methods of the past that they prefer to let the church die rather than change.

Six months after they called a young pastor from New Orleans to shepherd this transitioning congregation, I showed up for three days of ministry. As always, before and after preaching, I sat at a table drawing people. I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of children and teens and young families throughout the buildings. Already, the church is flourishing.

The longtime members of that little church are having to get used to a lot of change. The pastor does not wear a suit or tie or even a sport coat. Music is provided by a group composed of piano, several guitars, and a drum set. Four or five young adults were the praise ensemble.

It was a blessed service. The singing was great, the people were happy and friendly, and the fellowship was sweet. They’re getting this right.

Being with such a happy group of God’s people was such a joy.

What would happen, I wondered, if a member who moved back to town after a year’s absence walked into the service? A large screen flashes the words to hymns and choruses. The platform is covered by musical instruments, and an air of informality pervades.

Whoever heard of a church changing? (Smiley-face here)

Churches are always changing. Only the dead ones don’t.

May I repeat that? Churches are always changing–if they are alive. I guarantee you that Saddleback Church (Rick Warren) in Orange County is always tweaking what they do. As does North Point (Andy Stanley) in Alpharetta, and Celebration Church (Dennis Watson) in Metairie.

But we see this same scenario playing out again and again.

You’ve belonged to that church for many years. You were attracted to it because of location and ministry, because you liked the pastor and the people were friendly. You have served the Lord there in numerous capacities and your children grew up there. You have a history with that church. And now….

Now, it’s not the same church.

There’s a new pastor and new leadership. They are attracting a different group of people from the lovely group that drew you in. You feel less and less a part of things. You’re not at home with many of the innovations they’re doing now.

What should you do?

1) Recognize that churches are always in a state of change if they are alive.

Every time someone joins your church or leaves it, the church changes. Every time a member begins to get serious about reading the Word or witnessing or tithing or ministering, or when they backslide, the church changes. It is never static, never a frozen entity.

2) You yourself are growing and changing if you are alive and obedient. I grew up on a certain kind of church music, then grew past that. Later, my tastes changed and to no one’s surprise, have changed again.

3) Your needs and requirements change. My tastes change. It’s called “life.” After radiation treatment of the head and neck a full decade ago, many things no longer have a taste at all, while others are as wonderful as ever. I can handle spicy food better than before since I have fewer functioning taste buds. Life is like that.

4) Perhaps you are dragging your feet and resisting something new the Holy Spirit is trying to do in your life.

You are if you insist that the Lord do something again in the same way He did it before. You are dragging your feet and resisting Him if you reject the new things He sends because they are outside your comfort zone. Do you suppose Jonah felt comfortable going to Nineveh? Don’t you know it was way, way outside his comfort zone?

5) Perhaps the Lord has something new for you in the community and you should be in another church. This may be His way of cutting you loose from those ties that have bound you so you can move forward.

6) Are you open to new things? New ways? If you are not, you’re going to have trouble with the Lord Jesus.

“Behold,” the Lord said, “I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). He wasn’t just talking about Heaven, friend.

He’s making me ever-new right now. Yep, I said that. Psalm 92:12-15 promises that. “The righteous will flourish…. They will still bear fruit in old age. They will be full of sap and very green….”

So, what do you do when your church changes? Grow with it.

I’ve been thinking about cartoonists, abortion, and theological liberals lately.

My friend Annie was sitting in a doctor’s office the other day when a young woman came in to ask about an appointment. She wanted an abortion, she said, because she had plans for Labor Day weekend and wanted to get this done.

After a quick conversation with the receptionist, she left. Annie sat there in shock and then the tears began to flow.

Annie and her husband Mike are in line to adopt a baby due to be born in a month or two. To say they are excited and prayerful does not begin to describe them. Seeing the callousness with which that young woman wanted to be rid of her baby because “I have plans for the weekend” left Annie broken-hearted.

At this point, some in our audience will quit reading. They already “know” where it’s going and know they do not wish to go there.

That’s why there is little authentic conversation about abortions today.

And, may I say, I understand that.

Personally, I happen to be closed-minded on this subject. As far as I’m concerned, this is one of those issues in life with only one side: protect the lives of everyone, mother and child.

Theological liberals refuse to consider that the fetus inside the woman may actually be a human being and that to abruptly and intentionally end its life may be the most brutal act of which we are capable. If it does not meet the standards for homicide, it surely does for manslaughter.

Those who are hardened on the subject turn a deaf ear to such and mark the speaker (moi!) down as a right-wing nut or ignoramus who refuses to come into the 21st century.

Recently, I’ve been reading another book by a well-known cartoonist. As something of a cartoonist myself, and a lifelong admirer of the men and women who do this stuff well, I love learning how they do what they do and hearing their stories.

“In Your Face: A cartoonist at work” is Doug Marlette’s 1991 memoir and how-I-do-it. This prize-winning cartoonist had his life tragically cut short in an automobile accident some 10 years ago and we are much the poorer because of it.

Marlette began doing editorial cartoons for the Charlotte Observer at the age of 22. Later, he moved to the Atlanta Constitution-Journal and from there to Newsday. Much of this time he was also turning out a daily syndicated comic strip. “Kudzu” chronicled life in the small town of “Bypass, N.C.,” and gave the world a preacher with the wonderful name of “Will B. Dunn.”

Over the years, I have heard people identify Doug Marlette as a Christian. That always gave me a little pleasure since so few believers seem to work in his field.

When an irate phone caller accused everyone at his newspaper of being “a bunch of Jews,” Marlette countered, “Actually I was raised Southern Baptist.” In the book, he gives no testimony of faith or mention of church affiliation. The Will B. Dunn strips certainly showed a familiarity with Scripture and with the foibles of the church crowd. That strip adorned the bulletin boards of many a church and the office door of a lot of seminary professors I know. (When he died, his funeral service was held in a United Methodist Church in North Carolina.)

By these signs, I conclude that Marlette was a confessed Christian. Whether he was a practicing one I have no idea. (I’m bending over backward to make no judgment one way or the other.)

If he was a Christian, I think he would have been quick to identify himself as a liberal. The indications are all there.

My observation about theological liberals in any profession is that they champion themselves as the defenders of the weak and oppressed (a position dear to the heart of our Lord) while “taking on” the establishment, whether political or religious or cultural. Most cartoonists proudly admit this to be their approach, and I find that admirable.

The single case where liberals can be depended on to abandon the weakest and littlest has to do with abortion. 

Liberals seem to be uniformly pro-abortion.

Not that they would call it that.

Liberals in political and religious life speak of protecting “a woman’s reproductive rights” and “her right to choose,” euphemisms which camouflage the stark reality: Abortion terminates the life of a human being.

The theological liberal never quite seems to know whether abortion ends the life of a human or (ahem) a potential human. To quote one of their champions, that is “above (their) pay grade.”

I find it incredulous that a thinking adult would say, “I don’t know whether this is a human being or not, but I’m in favor of killing it.”

Their single concern, they keep insisting, is with the poor woman (she’s always poor and oppressed in their scenarios) who is being denied basic human rights by large cigar-chomping bullies who are almost always men, Southern, Christian, fat, calloused and powerful. (Let me interject to say I get this. Editorial cartoonists make no bones about the fact that they oversimplify. The drawing on the editorial page cannot get into subtleties and all the complicating factors. However, it’s so easy to misrepresent and slander in one’s attempt to simplify.)

On page 6, barely into his narrative, Marlette introduces us to “Mrs. Mackey, the abortion lady.” She loves to call his desk at the newspaper office early in the morning.

Mrs. Mackey has been writing and calling me steadily ever since I drew an anti-death penalty cartoon years ago. She sends me literature and leaflets to persuade me to do pro-life cartoons.

He describes her approach.

She begins in a soft whispery voice that is meant to ooze Christian charity and patience but is actually pushy, insistent, and much like a fork on a blackboard. I have become Mrs. Mackey’s personal responsibility. Her mission, for which she will no doubt reap rewards in paradise, is to convert the wayward cartoonist or at least force him to use one of her cartoon ideas.

Catch the condescension that compliments Mrs. Mackey while dismissing her as a nut. We imagine readers elbowing one another, laughing at the naiveté of this simple-minded woman who is heaven-bent on saving the lives of the unborn. How foolish of her to think that by persistence she can convince a sophisticated, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist to do anything.

Mrs. Mackey was well-known around that newspaper office. When a secretary rings Marlette to say he has a caller, she says, “No, it’s not Mrs. Mackey.”

On page 19, the dreaded anti-abortionist shows up again, this time with an idea for a drawing.

The phone rings again. “New York Newsday,” I answer. “You’ve got a pile of dead unborn babies on the left and on the right a pile of dead bodies. Over the babies it says New York City, 1990. Over the bodies it reads Auschwitz, 1939. The caption says ‘Progress?’ with a question mark.” 

“Not bad, Mrs. Mackey. I’ve never seen this whimsical side of you before.” 

“Do you like my idea?”

When Marlette hedges, Mrs. Mackey is ready.

“Do you know how many unborn babies died in New York City last year?”

“Goodbye, Mrs. Mackey.”

The one abortion cartoon Marlette runs in the book was inspired by a Supreme Court decision making “abortions tougher for the poor.” He says, “I began thinking of limos, yachts, country clubs, furs, jewelry–which reminded me of the phrase ‘If you have to ask how much, you can’t afford one!’ I drew a Supreme Court justice at the door of an abortion clinic greeting a poor pregnant woman with that line.”

The cartoon is supposedly championing the poor. But what about the defenseless baby in the mother’s womb? Too bad; he will have to fend for himself. No one but right-wing nuts speak out for that guy.

By the way, what did the Supreme Court do to hurt these poor women? It ruled the federal government was not required to fund their abortions.

Such is the reasoning of the theological liberal, whether a politician, professor, preacher, or cartoonist.

Do not look for to any liberal for consistency, but only for the accepted viewpoint of his group to be spouted. He is catering to his audience, preaching to his choir.

Do not look for a well-reasoned presentation. Do not wait for him to give an explanation and defend the charges against his position.

He will not attempt it because there is no defense.

Some issues have only one side and this is one of them.

I am quick to admit that “preaching to one’s choir” is a favorite pastime for all of us. Go to any preaching conference if you want to see how it’s done. Conservatives preach to conservatives (do liberals have preaching conferences? None that I’m aware of.) Everyone leaves feeling as though they have done something important. Liberals go to NOW conventions and preach to the choir, as do conservative politicians at Tea Party meetings.

At this point, someone will accuse me of slamming Cartoonist Marlette when he is no longer around to defend himself, of speaking ill of the dead. I am not slamming him nor speaking ill of him. I’m telling what he wrote, repeating what he said, reporting what he drew. Our Lord said, “By your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).

Mr. Marlette scoffed that Mrs. Mackey would no doubt be rewarded in “paradise” for championing the unborn.

Along about now, I expect he knows the truth of that.

There are no words to say how much I admire this woman.

Think about it….

In Isaiah’s day, the Lord God pleaded with His wayward people, “Come now and let us reason together….” (Isaiah 1:18).

That’s my great hope, that people would think about this, even if they are unwilling to discuss it. We wish the young woman whom Annie saw in the doctor’s office last week would give thought to what she is planning. We wish those who parrot the party line about “reproductive rights” and the “right to choose” would just think about this and come to their senses.

When Becky and Matt were waiting for their adoptive baby to be born, Becky’s mother told me what was going on so I could join them in prayer. The birth mother was having health issues and there were other factors.

That child is now almost nine months old and as healthy and sweet as any infant ever. The family lives several states away and the only way I see her is by photos posted on Facebook. Having prayed for them through those scary and difficult days, I feel almost like the child’s uncle. When Becky posts updates telling how the child called her “Mama” for the first time or was christened in church, my heart swells and I send up a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord.

Mrs. Mackey will indeed be getting her reward in paradise. As will many others I could name.

Let us bless the all the children, in particular the least among these.

"So, you were the one praying for me!"
 
Something about heaven was brought home to me by a testimony in the latest issue of Christianity Today (July/August 2014).
 
In "A Grief Transformed," Tara Edelschick tells of being brought up the daughter of a secular Jew and a lapsed Lutheran.  She learned to be fairly self-sufficient, went to a great college and married a super guy.  “Weaker souls might need a god,” she thought at the time, “but I needed no such crutch.”
 
“That belief was obliterated when my husband of five years, Scott, died from complications during a routine surgery. Ten days later, I delivered our first child, Sarah, stillborn.”
 
Oh, my.  Talk about a double whammy.  Life suddenly took a tragic turn, blindsiding the unsuspecting young woman.
 
Many would never have recovered from such a blow.
 
However, within a year, Tara had become a Christian.  She writes, “Nothing miraculous happened–no defining moments, blinding visions, or irrefutable arguments. But slowly, imperceptibly at first, I was drawn into a life of faith.”
 
Mostly, what happened, from her perspective, at least, is that friends witnessed to her. One friend in particular got her reading the Word.
 
 
A Christian acquaintance named Tony introduced Tara to the Gospel of John.  Each Saturday morning over the phone, they would read a portion of scripture and talk. “Tony was the only Christian I knew who didn’t try to explain away the loss of my husband and baby.”
 
Eventually, Tony convinced Tara to start going to church. That’s where she made the commitment to become a follower of Jesus Christ.
 
On the surface, the story seems simple enough with no complications.
 
But this is where the story gets good.
 
Run the tape back to the time when her husband and baby died.  Tara’s little family was living in New Jersey.
 
“A woman from Massachusetts named Liz stood up at her church for several weeks on end and asked people to pray for me.”
 
“Liz lived with my friend Ora, and Ora had told her about me.”
 
In that Massachusetts church was a man named Jeff.  He joined Liz and Ora in praying that “God would take care of my body and heart.”
 
Tara knew none of this was happening.
 
What came from it is a God thing.
 
Liz, the praying friend of Ora, moved off to England.  Then one day several years later, Liz contacted Ora to ask how her friend Tara was doing.
 
Ora was delighted to be able to say that Tara had become a Christian, was doing great and had met a nice guy named Jeff, a chaplain at Harvard, and they had married.
 
Liz said, “Jeff Barneson?”
 
He was the man in Liz’s church who had joined them in praying for Tara, all those years back.
 
Jeff had been praying for Tara years before they would meet.
 
Tara goes on with her story….
 
“One afternoon six years ago, after I finished telling this story to my friend Kathy (a member of Tara’s prayer group–Joe) she said, ‘So was I!’”
 
Tara said, “You were what?”
 
“I was praying for you, too.  Liz was in my prayer group.  She came to our group so distraught by your story that she asked us to pray for you. We prayed for weeks, and then I forgot about that story.”
 
Kathy continued, “When I met you, it never occurred to me that you were the same woman. In fact, Jean and Julie would have been there at church as well, so they were also praying for you back then.”
 
Tara spent the rest of the day crying. Jean and Julie are also in her prayer group.
 
Three of the five members of her prayer group had been interceding for her in prayer years earlier when she had gone through the greatest crisis of her life, without any of them having any idea they would ever meet, much less become best friends.
 
Tara writes, “Knowing that Jeff had been praying for me before we met had always touched me.  But learning that my spiritual sisters had also prayed for me left me shaken.”
 
She continues, “Piecing it all together, I wept and wept, unable to imagine the grace of it all.”
 
Think of it.
 
In 1997, when Tara was an agnostic widow living in New Jersey, a group of Christians in Massachusetts was interceding for her.  She says, “While my own attempts to find a faith never adequately explained my conversion, this did.”
 
“I had been prayed into the kingdom.”
 
God does not like to waste suffering. So, to no one’s surprise, these days the Lord is using this young mother to minister to others who are hurting the way she did. Tara has worked with middle school students whose parents had died. God is using her to counsel men and women who lose children and spouses in death.  She has taught classes at Harvard on bereavement.  She says people sometimes come up to her “in lowered voices” at parties and in grocery stories to unburden themselves of their stories of loss and grief. She says, “I pray for God’s love to do what I cannot: to bind up the wounded places, leaving their scars to bear witness of the power of both loss and love.”
 
This made me think of two big things that will happen in Heaven.
 
One: People will be coming up to thank you for praying for them. “God used your prayers to make the difference,” they will say. And you had not known it until that moment.
 
You will be so glad you prayed.
 
One of the inescapable realities of prayer in this fallen world is that most of the things we pray for, we will never know in this life whether the prayers were answered or how they were answered. We will pray by faith that God hears, cares, and answers, or we will grow discouraged and quit.  (See Luke 18:8 and 2 Corinthians 4:1,16.)
 
Two: You will find out that many of the great blessings in your life resulted from people praying for you. You had no idea they were praying, and might have even thought those blessings were pure luck, sheer coincidence, or the result of your hard work and sincere effort.
 
In Heaven, you will find out you were “prayed into the kingdom,” as Tara put it, and that prayer played a huge part in God’s guidance in every area of your life.
 
When I was 19 and recovering from my freshman year of college and working on our Alabama farm, something happened that changed my life forever.  Two phone calls, actually.
 
The first call came from my sister Patricia to say that her young family would be transferring to Birmingham. Since her husband James would be traveling, would it be possible for me to switch to a college in that city and stay with them. Free room and board for me, and security for her and the baby. I loved the idea.
 
The second call was to a cousin who was a year ahead of me in college in Birmingham. I asked about Samford University and Birmingham-Southern College, the two primary choices for higher education in those days.  As a result of her counsel during that call, I turned right around and called ‘Southern to ask for an application.
 
Near the campus of Birmingham-Southern, I began attending a great Baptist church where in a course of three years (that is, during college), I was baptized, met my wife, was called to preach, married, and ordained.
 
What part did prayer have in this?  I have no memory of praying much about any of it.
 
Was someone else praying? Is my Christian life and ministry of the gospel the result of the prayers of someone whom I do not know?
 
We will find out in Heaven.

“…and they shall never perish….” (John 10:28)

Can you unfry an egg? Then, after being saved–genuinely forgiven and accepted and transformed by the Holy Spirit of God into something far different from what you were, more than any hen’s egg ever dreamed possible–you cannot undo it.

Once saved, always safe.

To say otherwise, and to preach it, might be something akin to insulting the Holy Spirit.

It might be. Certainly, it’s worth giving this some serious thought.

My friend and her husband have been visiting around, trying to find the church where the Lord wants them. She sent me a message.

“We found a great church that we really like in a lot of ways. But we found out they believe a person can lose his salvation. That troubles us.”

She asked me to remind her what Scripture says on this subject. I was glad to do so.

Question 1. What are some primary scriptures teaching the security of believers?

John 10:28-29 is as solid as one could ever ask for. For that matter, so is John 3:16. In fact, every scripture that calls our salvation “eternal” or “everlasting” is making this claim, that salvation is forever and cannot be undone. (For us to say, “Well, it’s eternal so long as I keep up my end of the bargain” is insulting to the Lord.)

But there are plenty of others which speak of the eternal and lasting nature of the salvation we have in Christ. Some of these are….

Luke 10:20 – Disciples should not focus their thanksgiving on variable blessings (like results, numbers, baptisms, etc) since they are inconsistent, present sometimes and absent at other times, but should rejoice in this, “that your names are written in heaven.” Jesus clearly thought salvation was secure and unvarying, not dependent on anything external, and thus was everlasting. (I suspect it upsets Him to see how little people value what He achieved on Calvary, to think it’s a temporary situation won or lost by our doings.)

Ephesians 1:13 – Believers were “sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” If that’s not eternal security, it’s nothing. He has literally made believers “tamper-proof.” How good is that!

Ephesians 2:8-9 – Everyone agrees that this teaches salvation is not of works, but of faith. The funny thing, however, is that some will turn around and teach that, while good works cannot get us saved, bad ones can undo the Lord’s salvation. Interesting logic. I suspect they’ve just not thought this matter through. If that’s the case, then we are indeed saved by our works.

The entire Epistle to the Hebrews addresses this in numerous places. For instance, Jesus is a better priest and a superior sacrifice than under the former system because while those priests were forever slaughtering sacrificial animals, “through His own blood, He entered the holy place one for all, having obtained eternal salvation” (9:12). One for all. One time for all time.

The priests of the temple had no chairs because their work was never done. “But He, having offered one sacrifice for all time, sat down at the right hand of God….” (10:12). “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (10:14). And then, after saying in 10:17 that our sins would be remembered no more, Scripture says, “Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” Get it? No more offering because there’s no need. Once saved, forever safe.

Question 2. What about Hebrews 6:4-6? Doesn’t that teach one can lose his salvation?

I was listening to a television broadcast in which teachers in a certain denomination were spouting their flawed doctrine in answer to rigged questions (purported to have been called in by listeners). Someone phoned asking about Hebrews 6:4-6. The teacher said, “This passage teaches it’s possible to lose your salvation.” And he went on to other subjects.

Not so fast, friend. That scripture states that something is impossible. “In the case of (certain things), then if they have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” See that?

I grant you that it’s not an easy text for any of us, regardless of the position you take on this issue. If you believe, as I do, that the Bible presents salvation as an irrevocable gift from God which cannot be undone, then you have to admit this passage at least teaches the possibility of “falling away.” I answer that a) it does not say someone has done that, only that “if” they did, so the writer is posing a theoretical situation; and b) “if” they did fall away, getting them saved the second time is impossible. For that to happen, it would be necessary for Christ to return to the cross and die all over again.

Interesting that the television teacher’s denomination, which teaches one can lose his salvation and get it back, lose it again and regain it, does not baptize the person each time he/she “gets saved” again. And yet they teach baptism is an essential part of salvation. Anyone looking for consistency in many denominations’ doctrines will be endlessly frustrated.

Question 3. Is there any place in Scripture that flat-out teaches about some saved person losing his salvation?

I know of none. In fact, when the Apostle John spoke of people who had departed from the faith, he said, “they went out from us because they were not of us” (I John 2:19). He adds, “If they had been of us, they would have remained with us.”

They were never truly saved in the first place. That’s what he’s saying.

Question 4. Are there Old Testament allusions to the security of believers?

The best one I know concerns the priesthood. When a man became a priest, he was given a ceremonial bath. From head to toe, he was drenched. He stood there, passively “taking it.” However, the process was never repeated. From then on, every time he arrived at the tabernacle (and later the temple) to do his priestly work, on entering he went first to the laver (wash basin) and washed his hands and sometimes his feet. No one did it to him; he did it himself.

This is a picture of believers–in Christ we are priests of God (I Peter 2:9)–receiving salvation as a gift from God, through no works of our own. We stand there and take it. Thereafter, we never need to be saved again. However, each day of our lives, on our own initiative we come to Him and receive the daily cleansing as we pray, confess, and recommit ourselves.

See Exodus 40:12-15 for the initial washing of Aaron and his sons, and then 40:32 for the daily hand-washing. I cannot take credit for this. Woodrow Flynn, the man who preached the ordination sermon for Billy Graham, spoke to our seminary class one day in the 1960s and shared this insight with us. I think it’s pure gold.

Question 5. Why then do some entire denominations (and a lot of wonderful pastors and churches) teach the possibility of losing one’s salvation?

I’ll give you my opinion. I think it just makes sense to think, “Hey, I came in on my own and I can walk out on my own.” It’s all about free will. It just seems it would be this way.

For instance, we look around at people who once were faithful church members and now are living in big-time sin, and it seems logical to think they’re no longer saved. However, applying that test–concluding that what seems logical must be so–would also lead us to a doctrine of works salvation. It seems logical to the average person that good people go to heaven and bad people to hell.

This is why Scripture says “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God” (I Corinthians 2:14). They are foolishness to him.

My wife’s step-grandmother, a devoted Catholic if ever there was one, said, “Joe, don’t you think when we stand before the Lord, He will add up our good works on one side and put our bad works on the other and if the good outweighs the bad, we’re in?” All over her apartment, Grandma Ethel had pictures and images of Jesus on the cross. I gently asked, “What do you think the point of the cross was all about?” She recited the proper words–”He died for our sins”–but the meaning of that seemed not to be able to penetrate the mind of this one who had spent a lifetime believing in works salvation. (Was Ethel saved or not? I vote for “saved.” We are not saved by proper doctrine, but by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.)

Question 6. Are people who get this wrong bad people? Or do good people disagree on it?

Clearly, there are (you will understand the expression) good people on both sides of this issue. And yet both cannot be right. We are not calling “the other side” bad people or saying they are ignorant. We love the brethren. We believe they are mistaken because they choose to discount some of the great teachings of Scripture for the simple reason that “it doesn’t seem right to me.”

Question 7. Are there other reasons for believing in the security of believers?

Let me give you two that mean a lot to me.

First. Scripture teaches that the saved are “sons of God” and “children of God.” (See John 1:12, Romans 8:16; and I John 3:10.) Now, if we can have salvation and become God’s children, then lose salvation because of what we did or did not do, and thus are no longer God’s children, it’s a terrible metaphor the Lord chose to use. And yet Scripture uses it repeatedly. (See 2 Corinthians 6:18 and Galatians 4:7.)

Or should we believe that God will have sons and daughters in hell?

My wife and I have three adult children. We love them dearly, but as they were growing up each one gave us their share of headaches and worries. We spent sleepless nights worrying about them and praying relentlessly. They went through periods of rebellion against us and God (and came through it, thankfully). At no point did they cease being our children. Once my child, always my child.

Second. When we come to Christ and are genuinely saved, something happens at that moment which is divine, life-changing, eternal, and irreversible. We become children of the Heavenly Father, our names are written in the Book of Life, our sins are forgiven, the Holy Spirit indwells us, and nothing is ever the same again. This is why one cannot walk out the way he walked in. From this moment on, he/she is not the same person. In Christ, we are “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I hope this helps.

It does not answer every objection, of course. Huge books would be required to do that. But it’s important to emphasize this is not (as some accuse) a man-made doctrine to give sinning church members carte blanche to come and go and they please and still go to heaven. Far from it.

The person who goes on sinning as before, as I John puts it in several places, is not saved and never was.

The person who has no desire to live close to the Lord Jesus and to please Him and never has had, is probably not saved and never was.

However, that said, we say without fear of contradiction that in Heaven there will be people we never expected to be received. We will be surprised again and again. And, just as certain, there will be people we expected to find in Heaven who never made it.

God is the judge and not us. We see through a glass darkly, the same way we do everything else. We see doctrine through that darkened glass also, and no doubt get some things wrong.

Let us always come with humility to these matters of eternal significance. And let us pull back from the foolish who have all the answers and tolerate no dissent.

Help us, Lord.

GO
Example: "Gen 1:1" "John 3" "Moses" "trust"
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