This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

by
Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday



Monday, May 22, 2006

Responding to Questions Raised by Jonathan

Jonathan asked, "One question I have is how does union with Christ relate to the warnings in Scripture? Is it possible to have union with Christ in some sense and yet apostasize? I don't think so. Does the vine in John 15 have the same sense as union?"

Actually, there are three questions here, not simply one.


  1. How does union with Christ relate to the warnings in Scripture?


  2. Our union with Jesus Christ does not eliminate the need for warnings and admonitions nor does it mollify the urgency them. If we think biblically, it seems to me that our being in Jesus Christ places us under the proclamation of the gospel where the perpetual call--both admonishing and warning--ever and urgently beckons us to persevere in union with Christ Jesus. Thus, the apostle John says to us, "I write these things to you concerning those who are attempting to deceive you. And you, the anointing which you received from him persists in you and you have no need that someone teach you, but as his anointing teaches you concerning all things and is true and is not false, and just as it teaches you, persevere in him. And now, children, persevere in him in order that if he should appear we may obtain confidence and not be put to shame before him in his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that also everyone who does righteousness is born from him" (1 John 2:26-29; my translation).

    So, biblically speaking, how does union with Christ relate to the warnings in Scripture? It seems to me that union with Christ calls for continual warnings and admonitions to be administered to us through the gospel. It also seems to me, biblically speaking, that warnings and admonitions are a primary means that God has assigned by which he preserves us in Christ Jesus.

    Put starkly, then, not one of us who is in Christ Jesus ever finds ourselves outgrowing the need for the gospel's warnings and admonitions. Daily, we all need to hear the gospel, for the gospel warns and admonishes us that salvation is found nowhere else except in Christ Jesus.

    I can do no better than to point you to The Race Set Before Us pages 209-212, where we discuss Acts 27 as we offer the illustration of how God's promise and God's warning function in Paul's announcement of God's promise by way of the Lord's angel that assured that no life would be lost that was aboard the ship (Acts 27:22-26) and in Paul's proclamation that reminded all on board the ship concerning God's promise how all the lives would be saved as he warned them, "If these men do not remain in the ship, you will not be saved" (Acts 27:31).

    Being assured that we are in Christ and that being in Christ we shall be saved from the wrath to come is not contrary to being warned and admonished to remain in Christ in order that we might be saved from the wrath to come. This is the point that Jonathan Edwards so well grasped as he says, "'For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of, for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.' What necessity was there upon the apostle to preach the gospel, though God had commanded him, for he was already converted, and was safe; and if he had neglected to preach the gospel, how could he have perished after he was converted? But yet this conditional proposition was still true; if he did not live a life of obedience to God, woe would be to him; woe to him, if he did not preach the gospel. The connexion still held. It is impossible a man should go any where else than to hell in a way of disobedience to God. And therefore he deemed it necessary for him to preach the gospel on that account, and on the same account he deemed it necessary to keep under his body, lest he should be a castaway."

  3. Is it possible to have union with Christ in some sense and yet apostasize? I don't think so.


  4. I agree with you. No, it is not possible to have union with Christ and yet apostatize from Christ and perish. But, it seems to me, that if we allow this question to dominate and to direct our considerations of biblical warnings and admonitions, then we will be steered wrongly, and we will fail to acquire a biblical understanding of the function of the gospel's warnings and admonitions. This is the point that Tom Schreiner and I make throughout The Race Set Before Us and particularly emphasize on pages 194ff, when we talk about "Framing the right question."

    My point is this, that when we attempt to understand biblical warnings and admonitions, many of us Christians fall prey to the preemptive question that leads to two wrong alternatives depending upon other beliefs that we already embrace. By answering the preemptive question first, Christians divide. Some answer "Yes" and others answer "No." Those who answer "yes" tend to receive biblical warnings and admonitions as perpetual reminders of how tenuous their salvation actual is. The trustworthiness of the gospel is brought into question. Those who answer "no" tend to engage in creative, amazing, and intricate gymnastic exegesis of biblical warnings and admonitions that spawns new problems. Some regard themselves exempted from the warnings and admonitions because they view themselves as secure in Christ. They need to hear 1 Corinthians 10:12. Others believe that in order for them to feel the force of the warnings and admonitions it is necessary to suspend all assurance that they are in Christ Jesus because to take the warnings and admonitions seriously means that they might be deluded to think that they are in Christ when in reality they may not be in him at all.

    What is the preemtive question that we Christians allow to intrude and to mislead us? It is simply this: "Do the warnings and admonitions of Scripture teach us that it is possible for those who are in Christ Jesus to apostatize and to perish?" Observe carefully that I have called this the preemptive question. It is a valid question, but only in its proper order. The principal question that should guide us in how we receive biblical warnings and admonitions is quite different. The question we should be asking concerns the function of biblical warnings and admonitions not whether they call into question the sincerity of our trust in Christ nor the assurance that we are in Christ nor the firmness of God's promise that he will preserve us safely unto the Last Day. For further discussion of this, see TRSBU pages 195-200. If we ask the right question--the question concerning the purpose of warnings and admonitions--we will come to a right understanding of them, namely, that warnings and admonitions are God's means by which he preserves us safely in Christ Jesus.

  5. Does the vine in John 15 have the same sense as union?


  6. Your question about John 15 reminds me concerning a large portion of text that Tom Schreiner and I removed from our manuscript to reduce its already too-large-size. Here is a portion of that segment that we eliminated from our book, lest our editor eliminate it for us.


    As Christians read John 15, we generally fail to realize that Jesus’ principal purpose for the extended metaphor is not simply to portray the vital and living relationship between Jesus and his disciples, though this certainly becomes the emphasis. First and foremost, Jesus presents himself as the “true vine,” which is his metaphorical way to present himself as the “True Israel” (cf. Ps 80:8ff). Therefore, the branches in the vine represent God’s “new people,” his faithful people in contrast to apostate Israel. So, the faithlessness of Israel stands as a backdrop as Jesus admonishes, warns, and assures his “new people” concerning faithfulness to him. Yet, Jesus does not develop this replacement motif, but he does expand upon the imagery, for it suggests union, reciprocal indwelling, and fruitfulness, all apt metaphors to portray the profound relationship between Christ and his believers. It is analogous to the relationship in which the Son subordinates himself to his heavenly Father (John 15:4-5, 9-10).

    John uses the verb “remain” to picture the reciprocal union of vitality between Christ, the vine, and believers, the branches. As the believer remains in vital union with Christ and bears fruit, so Christ remains in union with the believer, effectively nurturing the believer with the sap of eternal life. When Jesus says, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” (15:4; our translation), he makes it clear that the analogy between believer and branch is not to be pushed to an extreme, for a branch makes no effort to remain in a vine, but the believer must persevere in Jesus Christ. Jesus commands us to “remain” in him. As we have already noted, an imperative in a sentence such as this often bears a conditional sense. So, of the interpretive options, it is best to understand this command in a conditional sense, “If you remain in me, I also will remain in you.” Jesus reinforces this by adding a comparative conditional sentence, “Just as no branch can bear fruit on its own, unless it remains in the vine, so also neither can you unless you remain in me.” The point is clear. In the reciprocal union of Christ and believer, the vital life flows one way, for if the believer is severed from Christ, there is no vitality at all and certainly no fruit. Therefore, Jesus does not add “remaining” as a responsibility separate or distinct from “believing.” Rather, under the figure of a branch remaining joined with a vine, Jesus simply commands belief. Belief in him, that unites one to the source of eternal life, is persevering belief. It is not transitory or temporary, but persistent and productive.

    According to Jesus, if a branch fails to bear fruit, God the Father severs it and casts it aside to await is destruction by fire (John 15:2, 6). A branch that fails to bear fruit and is therefore severed, of course, is one that fails to remain in Christ. But Jesus assures his disciples that they are ones the Father prunes with “the word I have spoken to you,” so that “you are already clean,” for Judas is no longer among them (cf. John 15:3 with 13:1-17, 30). Furthermore, Jesus assures the eleven, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you in order that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain” (15:16). Now it is important to point out that the promise we encounter in John 15:16 is different from those we have seen in Revelation 21:6-7 or in Matthew 10:22. Those two were conditional promises, the one in John 15:16 is unconditional.

    How can we recognize that one is conditional and the other is unconditional? What is the essential difference between these biblical promises? We recognizes the difference by the way the Bible writers express them. Biblical writers express a conditional promise by using one of several ways to express a supposition or contingency. On the other hand, an unconditional promise of salvation is one in which God’s choice to save or his promise to preserve his children is not grounded upon any conditions that we must fulfill. Jesus announces to his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you in order that you should go and bear fruit. . . .” This means that Jesus did not base his choice of his disciples upon conditions that they had to meet. Elsewhere John speaks of God’s unconditional love when he says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). John succinctly restates this, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). These two verses make it clear that God did not love us because of something loveable in us; he did not set his affection upon us because of any condition we fulfilled, for we were unlovely sinful rebels against the Creator as is the whole world from which God chose his own (John 15:19). Furthermore, these two verses clarify that God’s love is the cause that moves us to love both him and one another. Likewise, in John 15, Jesus’ unconditional choice and promise functions as the basis for his exhortations and warnings. Immediately following the affirmation of election and the promise of preservation, Jesus admonishes his disciples, “Love each other!” (15:17).

    So, within the same extended viticulture metaphor, Jesus warns his disciples that his Father severs unfruitful branches for burning (certainly an image of eternal perishing), yet Jesus assures his disciples that he elected them and ordained that they should bear fruit that endures (John 15:2, 16). And he also punctuates his extended admonition with conditional promises such as, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you” (15:4).


    Therefore, my simple and short answer to your question--Does the vine in John 15 have the same sense as union?--is yes, it does.

My responses to Jonathan's questions may raise more questions. If so, please use the comments feature to pose your questions. Thank you.

8 comments:

Mathaetaes said...

Dr. Caneday,

You said, "when we attempt to understand biblical warnings and admonitions, many of us Christians fall prey to the preemptive question that leads to two wrong alternatives depending upon other beliefs that we already embrace. By answering the preemptive question first, Christians divide. Some answer "Yes" and others answer "No." Those who answer "yes" tend to receive biblical warnings and admonitions as perpetual reminders of how tenuous their salvation actual is. The trustworthiness of the gospel is brought into question."

I have tended toward the "yes," that salvation can be "lost." Only, however, from the perspective that we have a present relationship with Christ that started from a particular moment. I do not question the efficacy of the promises of scripture, but the nature of our own hearts/souls. Are we who we say we are? I think of Mark 4:3-9 here. Some are quick to hear the Gospel and then turn away while others seem to persevere, only to turn away later. Here is what scares me. Some who (it is obvious) have definitely fallen away, were among us, "walked the walk" and "talked the talk." They raised their arms and belted out the songs. they were witness to miracles and to doctrine. Yet they have left us to prsue the pleasures of the world instead. I, too, feel the constant tugging of the world. I long for comfort. I worry that I may not always choose Christ. If it is true that God has mercy on whom he will have mercy and hardens whom he will harden, how do we know he will not harden us? Instead of turning against God because I do not feel "assured," this leads me to run to him, for I have no where else to go. Only he knows (it seems to me) whether I will be saved in the end. I can only trust in him and hope that he will save me. Until then I will attempt to live my life for him and his glory, even while seeing that my life falls far short of that glory. I must even trust him to glorify my works and my sinful thoughts. Am I wrong? If so, I humbly ask for you to correct me and show me where my vision is skewed so that I might change. Assurance is very hard for me, but I feel like it would be so nice to have!

Steve

Paulos said...

Mathaetaes,

If I may offer my assessment of what you describe about yourself, I would suggest that instead of tending to answer the preemptive question "Yes," as you suppose, you actually may incline to answer "No" to the question I posed.

Those who answer "Yes" definitely tend toward the Arminian side. Those who answer "No" definitely tend toward the Calvinist side. However, as you will recall, I briefly indicated that those who respond to the preemptive question with the negative, "tend to engage in creative, amazing, and intricate gymnastic exegesis of biblical warnings and admonitions that spawns new problems." One of those problems, on which I did not elaborate, but did mention is this: "Others believe that in order for them to feel the force of the warnings and admonitions it is necessary to suspend all assurance that they are in Christ Jesus because to take the warnings and admonitions seriously means that they might be deluded to think that they are in Christ when in reality they may not be in him at all."

Thus, if I may suggest, it seems to me that you suffer under what I suffered when I first became a Calvinist. Many Calvinists never recover from this malady. One of the fundamental reasons they do not recover from this malady is that they fail to apprehend the very core argument that Tom and I present in The Race Set Before Us. They continually hear the warnings and admonitions of Scripture as tests of genunineness of faith. So, for example, I will use my own experience when I suffered with the malady. If I read or heard 1 Corinthians 9:23-27, I would reason as follows. This passage is telling me that it is entirely possible that I may not persevere to the end and be saved. If this passage means that it is possible that I could perish, then this means that it is possible that I could be deluded to think that I am saved when I may not be saved at all. I know that God will make sure that he preserves all the elect unto final salvation. What I cannot know is that I am one of those that God will preserve unto the end. Assurance of salvation, then, is to be assured today that I am a Christian. About tomorrow, I cannot be assured."

Tom and I address this issue on pages 182ff of The Race Set Before Us. (I think that I will compose a blog entry on this issue, if you do not mind that I use your comments as the springboard for such a discussion).

I was like many Calvinists. I hear many Calvinist preachers preach the warnings and admonitions in such a manner that they induce their hearers to go through the kind of reasoning that I formerly went through. Thanks be to God for rescuing me from that kind of reasoning. What changed for me? All that Tom and I unfold in our book. That is what changed for me. I came to recognize from Scripture that I had a much too truncated and retrospective view of salvation. I came to realize that I was guilty of continually attempting to answer the preemptive question rather than the true and proper question whenever I read or heard a biblical warning or admonition. Only then did I begin to receive assurance of salvation offered to us in the gospel. Up to that point I had daily assurance that I was saved that day. This is the kind of assurance that many Calvinists have. It is no better than the kind of assurance that Arminians and Wesleyans can have. For the first time in my life, as a young seminarian, I began to experience the kind of assurance that the gospel affords to all who believe. I became assured that when I stand before Jesus Christ in the Last Day that I will hear his welcoming words, "Well done! Enter into my kingdom!" In other words, one of the greatest treasures of the gospel that The Race Set Before Us opens up to our readers is assurance of salvation today that we will be saved in the Last Day. Assurance of salvation that does not lay hold of confidence of salvation in the Day of Judgment is truncated and diminished because of false beliefs, wrong beliefs that need to be corrected by the gospel of Jesus Christ which holds out assurance of final salvation to all who believe today.

Do these things ring true for you? Have I struck a chord with you?

Mathaetaes said...

You definitely have me pegged. "it is possible that I could be deluded to think that I am saved when I may not be saved at all. I know that God will make sure that he preserves all the elect unto final salvation. What I cannot know is that I am one of those that God will preserve unto the end." This is exactly the thought process I have been having. I am going to read TRSBU again. I must admit it has been a while. Thank you Dr. Caneday.

Mathaetaes said...

Also, feel free to use my comments/questions as a springboard.

Steve

Joe Rigney said...

Dr. Caneday,

At the moment I'm taking a seminar on the book of Hebrews. During our discussion of the warning passage in Hebrews 6, your view was brought up. Many of the students (and the instructor) in the class who are familiar with your book believe that despite the attempts to distinguish your view from the hypothetical view, it eventually collapses into it. The main argument for this collapse is that, though they might agree with you that the first question that needs to be asked has to do with the function of the warnings and they might agree that the main orientation is prospective rather than retrospective, nevertheless when we finally get around to asking the question about the referents in 6:4-5, on your view they are believers, in contrast to the traditional Reformed view where the referents are those who have come close to salvation but are still unregenerate. By seeing the referents as believers and maintaining that all truly regenerate believers will persevere, then the situation in 6:4-5 will never be realized because no one who has been enlightened, etc will ever actually fall away. Thus the situation in Hebrews 6, whatever the function of the warning, is hypothetical. While there might be nuances of difference, they are at root the same.

I'm wondering if you could comment on the relationship between your view and the hypothetical view and perhaps more clearly distinguish between the two. Thanks.

Joe

A. B. Caneday said...

Joe,

Thank you for your comment and question. Yes, I will be happy to expound upon the fundamental difference between the so-called "hypothetical view" of warnings, particularly those in Hebrews, and our view, "the means of grace view." There are crucial distinctions.

Please watch for a blog entry on this. I will raise it up out of the comments so that it may be readily seen and read by all who visit this blog.

Which seminary do you attend, if I may ask?

Joe Rigney said...

Dr. Caneday,

I'm actually a TBI apprentice. We're working through Hebrews with Dr. Moo right now. It's been excellent. I look forward to your comments.

Joe

A. B. Caneday said...

Joe,

I'm sorry. I should have remembered that you are in TBI. My apologies.