Making Sense of the Warning Passages Part 2 of 2: Warnings in light of Covenant
Our first post took care of giving us an introduction to the covenantal structure of scripture and how God deals with His people. The basic points we saw were that God chooses a group of people out of all of the peoples on the earth to represent Him, worship Him and serve Him.Â In the OT, this group was ethnic Israel.Â God being God, initiates a covenant with this group. Israel – all those in the group – are responsible for the terms of the covenant. When they break the covenant, they receive the curses of the covenant. This is illustrated repeatedly through scripture – one simply has to read Deuteronomy 28, 29 and 30 and look at the history of Israel. When Israel broke the covenant and followed after other gods, God did indeed bring other nations to punish Israel, eventually driving them out the land completely (722 BC and 586 BC).
Within that group of ‘covenant people’ or the ‘covenant community’, there were those who were truly children of the promise. That is (according to Romans 9:6-7, everyone born into ethnic Israel (visible community) were not truly (to use a church term) “saved” (invisible community or the ‘true’ community).
This pattern has continued in the New Testament. Just as the OT covenant community was a mixed group of individuals (saved and unsaved), so too is the NT community of the church a mixed group of saved and unsaved individuals.
None of this impacts in any way whether or not a person is truly saved or not.Â Individual (personal) salvation is an issue between the individual and God.Â Understand this point carefully before continuing.Â Being ‘in covenant’ does not equal ‘being saved’. Being in covenant (in this sense) means that you have entered into visible participation with the local visible representation of the covenant people of God – (in english: it means you’re a church member) and you are now responsible for all of the stipulations of the covenant.
Another concept comes into play: the doctrine of providence (as well as the doctrine of election, by implication). Romans 8:28-39 and Ephesians 1:3-14 among other passages speak to the individual believer and assure him/her that God not only chooses them for salvation, doesn’t just ‘mark them off’ for salvation, but also orders their lives in such a way that they not only get saved (at the appropriate time according to God’s will), but that every life event that happens works toward the ultimate goal of conforming them to the image of Christ.Â So God ordains the beginning, the continuation and the consumation (glorification) of the individual, not just ‘fire insurance’.Â True believers end up persevering in faith, not just saying ‘I believe’ and think they can live any way they like (Jeremiah 32:40, Ezekiel 36:22-33, 1 John 3:9-10).Â In contrast, those who are not chosen by God for salvation eventually and finally do fall away from the faith (1 John 2:19).
That brings us to the subject of the hour: the warning passages.
SO WHAT ABOUT THE WARNING PASSAGES ?
I’m not following you here. If you are of the non-elect, why do you need to worry about the warning passages? Is that not like telling someone who isn’t born-again to not sin, because they will receive judgment from God? Furthermore, if you are totally depraved, why would you even consider that you need to take heed?
You ask several questions here (and they are good ones!). Some of what you ask has been addressed above – the warning passages are addressed to the entire covenant community. Remember that the covenant community is a mix of believers and non-believers. Remember also that:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:9-11)
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for Godâ€™s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9)
When the elect who are already converted in the community hear it, they pull a 2 Cor. 13:5 and examine themselves and then turn from sin back to Christ (if they are in habitual sin). The Spirit working through the Word is the means (remember, God uses these things) by which God causes the child of God to persevere in faith and not fall away.
When the elect who are not yet converted hear the Word, when God gives them new life and draws them (John 6:44-45, 65), they come (6:37) without fail to Christ. This is what we call the inward call of the Spirit or irresistible or effectual grace. The ‘A’ in my screen name represents it (Accomplishing Grace). God’s grace that brings salvation (Titus 2:13) and teaches us to deny ungodliness and live sober and uprightly. No one comes to the conclusion to do this of their own. It is GOD working in them (Phil. 2:12-13) that brings them to call Jesus Lord and God (1 Cor. 12:1-3) and submit to Him.
Remember the Holy Spirit speaking to Paul in Acts 18 – He told Paul that He had ‘many people in this city’, so go there and preach. Those people were the elect who needed to hear the gospel in order to be converted. God used the means (Paul preaching the gospel) to bring about what He has ordained would happen (these people are the elect of God, so they will at some point in their life, become Christian and eventually be conformed to the image of Christ).
Those whom the Spirit of God gives new life to are changed without fail when they hear the warnings given by God. Remember – God’s word NEVER comes back void. It ALWAYS accomplishes what He intends for it to do.
So what about those who do not believe ? What about the non-elect ?
When the non-elect in the covenant community hear the warning passages, several things could happen.
And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. – in this case, they could hear, but walk away unchanged. But they like religious activity, so they keep coming back. Mike (Expo) and I walked into a Christian Bookstore recently and talked with a clerk who seemed to be like this (actually, TWO….)….
Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. – Focus on that phrase for a moment – immediately sprang up. Jesus says later in Matthew 13 that these were those who “hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” – in this case, the person does two things that might fool you into thinking he/she is a Christian. The first is that he receives the Word with JOY…..immediately. Second is that he endures….for a while.
Think about people who we ‘thought’ were saved. They spoke in tongues. Officiated our marriages. Prayed for our loved ones. Gave us sound biblical advice. Grew up next to us. Went to school with us. Then one day, they gradually fell away. Dennis McKinsey, noted skeptic, was a missionary and evangelist for 40+ years before declaring himself an atheist and writing books attacking the Christian faith. I interacted with him about a decade ago on a discussion list where he outlined all the things he’d done, but how his doubts eventually grew into unbelief and he walked away from the Christian faith.
The word is used here as a farmer would use a winnowing stick to separate the wheat from the chaff. Have you ever seen someone come to church, stay, be involved, but during the course of their time in the church, as more and more of the Word gets preached, they love the experiences, love the benefits, but say that they don’t believe some of the things written in scripture ? They gradually grow more skeptical of biblical authority, although they claim to love God ?
Here’s the issue – we don’t know who the elect or non-elect are in the community of faith (or outside of it), so the gospel goes forth in preaching to every person.
|Why would it be a warning passage for the elect, if the elect aren’t able to fall away in the first place? To draw another analogy, that would be like telling someone who can’t be burned to not touch the hot stove?|
Well, I think I addressed the warning passages pretty well above and their usage already, but let’s tweak your analogy…..
It’s more like telling a man made of paper that he will never be burned up by fire and can never be burned by it. “But wait – he’s made of paper! Paper burns!” True. Paper can be burnt to ashes. In fact, if fire got near to him, he’d catch fire and burn. “But wait – I thought you said he can’t be burned or will never be burned up!” I did. But I also said that on the inside of his paper makeup, he’s been given a special chemical that makes him phobic to fire. So when he hears “don’t go near the flame – it’ll burn you!” he, unlike other people, turns from the flame because he has a natural fear of it. Secondly, on the outside, there’s a HUGE invisible hand in an asbestos glove that constantly follows him around so when he gets anywhere NEAR to fire, he is shielded and pushed away from it. Third, another piece of Human paper person has already taken the full penalty of burning by fire on his behalf for all of his lawbreaking and had that innocent paper person’s spotless reputation applied on his moral behalf…. his ‘bill’ is considered not just at a zero, but at a positive 100 %, meaning there is nothing he can be tossed in the fire for. The fire is for those who are counted as lawbreakers. But this one’s guilt has been paid for in full.
Of course, my analogy just ended up being more bible anyway. But I hope more this makes sense now.