KINDNESS AND STERNNESS
“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 too will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature and, contrary to nature, were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” Romans 11:22-24.
That puts paid to the pernicious “once saved, always saved” doctrine!
There is a never-ending supply of God’s grace for those who “continue in His kindness.” Of that we can be absolutely confident. However, God’s covenant with His people is a two-way agreement. In one sense, He has done it all. There is nothing we can add to what Jesus did by His life and death to make it more effective. He has redeemed us from slavery to sin, reconciled us to the Father and restored us to His family as His sons and daughters. “He has given us everything we need for living a godly life…” 2 Peter 1;3a. He has placed His Spirit within us to nuture and guide us in His ways.
But, like the Israelites who were cut off because of their unbelief and disobedience, we can also be cut off if we persist in living according to the flesh. There is ample evidence in the Scriptures, both in the Old and the New Testaments that the initiative to remain in union with God is ours. Consider what Jesus said to His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion:
‘If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” John 15:6.
Sobering words from the Master Himself!
Paul was equally adamant that the life of God in us must produce the fruit of that life.
“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:5, 6.
From where does the idea come that we can continue to live as we like and still remain in the vine? Our union with Jesus is both passive and active – passive in that we need do nothing to remain in Him because He has called us into His rest, yet active in that we continue to trust Him, obey His Word and walk in the Spirit.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.” Romans 8:14.
There is no limit to God’s kindness towards those who believe and obey what He says, but only punishment for those who do not. He cannot do otherwise because He has done everything necessary to restore us to Himself but leaves the choice to us. Answering an altar call or signing a decision card, or even receiving Jesus as our personal Saviour is not the criterion – only faith and obedience are.
For the Jew as well as the Gentile, the way back to God is the same. They, and we, cannot count on our ancestry to guarantee our relationship with the Father; it is individual and personal, just as God revealed to Habakkuk:
“…The righteous person will live by his faithfulness.” Habakkuk 2:4b.
Like many of God’s promises, eternal life is conditional. It is a partnership between us and God. We believe and He responds to our faith by energising us to obey. The Holy Spirit is the “fuel” who gives power to our choices. We act upon the promises of God and He moves us closer to the image of His Son.
“Through these (His own glory and goodness), He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world caused by evil desires.” 2 Peter 1:4.
I think that the issue is not so much about being saved and then living in the flesh but about thinking one is saved but has never been born again of the Spirit of God. Saying the “sinner’s prayer” or answering an altar call does not save anyone. Paul said,
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 1 Romans 10:9-12
The evidence that one has truly been born again of God’s Spirit lies in the transformation of the life from ungodliness to the new life that seeks after God and lives according to the Word.
“No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.” 1 John 3:9-10
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.