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Sept. 11 is backdrop for his reflections on eternal security

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The remembrance of Sept. 11, 2001, puts issues of eternity on people’s minds, said Steve Lemke, provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Speaking in a chapel service on the day before the first anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Lemke said that such tragic events raise questions such as, “Am I ready for eternity if something like that happens to me?”

Many people assume that the key to eternal life is a matter of what they have done lately for God to maintain their salvation, Lemke said. They think they must do good works in order to earn God’s favor. In a time when the eternal security of the believer is often doubted, Lemke pointed to five reasons the Bible teaches that Christians can know with assurance they cannot lose their salvation:

1. Because salvation is not theirs to lose.

Acknowledging various views among evangelical Christians regarding predestination, Lemke pointed to Romans 8:29-30, in which those whom God foreknew he also predestined, those whom he predestined he also called, those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified will also be glorified. God’s predestination is thus based on his foreknowledge of a person’s response, Lemke said.

The reference to predestination in Ephesians 1:11, Lemke said, emphasizes that God takes the initiative in salvation. Christians were chosen “having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”

Lemke contended, “The point is that salvation is not of ourselves. If we have a mortal injury or disease, we cannot perform surgery on ourselves. We must entrust ourselves to a physician. Spiritually, we are mortally ill with a disease called sin. And we entrust ourselves to the Great Physician.”

While many people often say, “I got saved” or “I got baptized,” the truth is that Christians cannot save themselves, Lemke said. “The initiative of salvation is always with God,” he said, citing other passages such as John 15:16, 1 John 4:19, and Ephesians 2:8.

2. Because salvation is grounded in a genuine experience with God.

To illustrate, Lemke contrasted Peter’s pre-resurrection denials of Jesus with the bold proclamation of the post-Pentecost apostle. “How can you account for that kind of transformation?” he asked. “It must be based on a genuine experience with the risen Christ.”

He also pointed to James, who was said to have not believed in Christ initially, yet his epistle calls him “a slave of Christ” (James 1:1). Again, the provost asked, “How do you account for this dramatic change apart from an genuine experience with the risen Christ?”

Moreover, he pointed to Paul’s Damascus road conversion experience even while his purpose was to persecute the church. “You would never be able to convince Paul that his salvation experience was just a hallucination!”

The Christians in the Ephesian church, which Lemke described as “Paul’s longest interim pastorate,” also had genuine life transformations. “You also trusted in Christ after you heard the gospel of your salvation,” Paul wrote of the many Ephesians he led to salvation in Christ.

“The Bible never claims that everyone who says they are a Christian really is,” Lemke noted. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus rejects those who trusted in their own good works rather than his work in them, and in the parable of the sower, some people have shallow emotional responses to the gospel that are not grounded in true faith.

“People may have emotional reactions at a revival or VBS [Vacation Bible School], but never make a commitment of their life,” said Lemke. “The faith that fizzles at the finish had a flaw at the first. Those who have a genuine experience with Christ know that their faith is secure.”

3. Because salvation is a scriptural promise.

According to Ephesians 1:13, Christians are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit which authenticates the believer much like a waxed seal engraved with the king’s signet ring authenticates a document, Lemke explained.

In fact, he said Christians are “triply-sealed” by:

— the Father, as explained in John 10:29 when Jesus said, “no one can pluck them from my Father’s hand.”

— the Son, where in John 10:28 he says he gives eternal life, and no man can “pluck them out of my hand.”

— the Holy Spirit, drawn from Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30, which admonishes Christians to not grieve the Holy Spirit, “by whom you have been sealed.”

“No one can break that triple seal of protection, not even Satan himself,” Lemke said.

Moreover, the Holy Spirit “is the guarantee of our inheritance,” Lemke continued, referencing Ephesians 1:14. This guarantee is similar to when a person uses “earnest money” or a down payment to commit to a future payment, he said.

He pointed to 1 Peter 1:4-5, which promises an inheritance that is “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven” and “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”

4. Because not losing salvation is a logical necessity to be consistent with Scripture.

Entertaining the notion that if people could lose their salvation as a result of sin, Lemke asked, “How many sins would it take to lose your salvation?” Then he asked, “What kind of sin could cause you to lose your salvation? Going into a preschool classroom and killing a bunch of 3-year olds?”

Lemke read from James 2:8 to answer the questions: “Whoever shall keep the whole law but commits one sin is guilty of the whole law.”

“One sin is all it takes to be a sinner,” Lemke concluded.

Again, he read the Scripture in James 2:8: “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

“We all show partiality by treating our friends better than our enemies,” Lemke said.

When these standards are applied to the doctrines held by some that people could lose their salvation once, or that they could lose and regain their salvation a number of times, it doesn’t make much sense, Lemke said. “Either no one could be saved, or we would spend all our time getting saved over and over again. And that drives us back to what the Bible promises, that once we are genuinely saved, we are saved forever.”

5. Because Christians are a part of the family of God.

Lemke pointed out that when Christians put their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, God becomes their father and they become a part of his family. John 1:12 put it this way: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

“What a privilege to enter into a relationship with God the Father!” Lemke said, pointing out that while sin may interfere with fellowship with God, the relationship is not affected.

In concluding his message, Lemke called on his pastoral experience to point out three types of people: those who may be church members but know in their heart that they have never been saved, those who cannot remember when they were saved but need assurance of their salvation; and those who are saved but out of fellowship with the Lord.

“You can know that you know that you have eternal life,” he said, quoting 1 John 2:3. “God purchased your salvation through Jesus Christ. You didn’t earn it or deserve it in the first place, so there’s nothing you can do to lose it.

“That brings comfort when we think how sudden tragedies like 9/11 can happen,” he said.

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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