Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Once Saved, Now Lost - Part 3b

Was the Abrahamic Covenant Unconditional?

"That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.  

Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect...And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:14-17, 29

The promises fulfilled in the new covenant were first made to Abraham based on his faith in God, which is why Abraham is called the father of our faith. Yet distortions in the understanding of the Abrahamic covenant have been used to reinforce belief that the OSAS doctrine is sound.

In our last article, we saw that this covenant - and by comparison the new covenant - is between God and man. It is not a covenant between the Father and Jesus whereby man is just a beneficiary absolved of all covenant obligations.

Another area of confusion is whether the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional. By this it is said that God took on sole responsibility for keeping the covenant with Abraham so that nothing could be done to break it.

Yet, before we take a detailed look at the Abrahamic covenant, consider the following:

"And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice." Genesis 22:18

Why would all the nations be blessed? Not because God held all responsibility for maintaining the covenant relationship, but BECAUSE Abraham had obeyed God.

God makes the same statement again when later renewing the Abrahamic covenant with Isaac:

"Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father; And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; BECAUSE that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws." Genesis 26:3-5

Again, we see that God will perform the oath sworn to Abraham because of Abraham's obedience. God relays in Scripture that this was the a reason why He selected Abraham.

"And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." Genesis 18:17-19

It was God's will to bring these promises to pass, so He chose someone whom He knew would not only obey, but would cause his household to obey as well. The proper response to God's offer of covenant with man is always obedience, and Abraham was no exception.

The Covenant Promised

The covenant is first introduced to Abraham when God first calls him to leave Ur and to go a new land.

"Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. Genesis 12:1-3

The promises God made were predicated upon Abram obeying His commands to leave his homeland and go where God commanded. "Get thee out...and I will." This promise is also referenced in the New Testament.

"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went." Hebrews 11:8

Abraham obeyed God's words because he had faith. He was not forced to go and neither was he forced to stay after he left. The promises would not be received until "after" he obeyed God's commands to go.

"And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city." Hebrews 11:15-16

Was it still possible for him to have returned back to his old country? Yes. God says that truly, they could have returned if they had set their mind to. However, the desire to attain the promises of God kept them from looking back (Remember Lot's wife).

From the beginning, Abraham's obedience to God's commands was central to God's establishment of a covenant with Him. In the New Testament, that obedience is demonstrated by placing faith in the confirmation of the Abrahamic covenant; the "seed", Jesus Christ.

The Covenant Confirmed

"And he [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.

And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram..." Genesis 15:6-18a

After God and Abraham discussed the promised seed and inheritance, Abraham asks God for confirmation that these things would come to pass. "Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" God then confirmed it by engaging in a common practice from Abraham's day.

As was the custom, individuals desiring covenant with one another would take an animal, cut it in half, and walk between the cut pieces. In doing so, they were each committing themselves to fulfilling the promises of the covenant or run the risk of being treated as the cut-up animal. Contrary to the established custom, only God Himself walks through this sacrifice prepared by Abraham.

Some use this text to assert that the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional. It is proof, they say, that God alone bears responsibility for keeping the covenant.

However, God was not taking sole responsibility for "keeping" the covenant. He was confirming that He alone would bring the inheritance to pass. The promise of the inheritance was embodied in Christ. He was the "seed" promised to Abraham.

"For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he [Jesus] took on him the seed of Abraham." Hebrews 2:16

"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect." Galatians 3:16-17

The covenant with Abraham was confirmed "in Christ". By placing faith in God, Abraham was by virtue of that act placing faith in the Gospel of Christ (Galatians 3:8). The fulfillment of the promise was something only God could do. As such, He could confirm those promises by nothing short of His own righteousness.

"For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.

For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec." Hebrews 6:13-20

God named two immutable things whereby Abraham could know that He would provide the promise...and not one of them was His accepting sole responsibility for "keeping" the covenant. The two immutable items in which Abraham could trust were: 1) The unchanging nature of God's will; and 2) The confirmation of God's oath.

Knowing it is not possible for God to lie, we can trust firmly in what He says. If He says He will provide a seed, and an inheritance for that seed, then He will do it by the purpose of His own counsel. And not only that, but He went even further and performed a solemn oath confirming that He would bring these things to pass. Even amongst men, said the Scripture, an oath ends all strife.

Yet, God reveals something amazing about the covenant. The hope we have in God's word and His oath - knowing that He will perform what He has said - is reflected in the person of Melchizedek. It is in fact Abraham's communion with Melchizedek which led up to this confirmation from God.

In Genesis 14, Abraham rescues Lot and the other inhabitants of Sodom who had been captured in battle. Upon his triumphant return, he is greeted by the King of Salem.

"And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all." Genesis 14:18-20

Before God confirmed the covenant promises by walking through the sacrifices, Abraham partook of the bread and wine with the King of Peace, the high priest Melchizedek - who is a type of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, the high priest of the new covenant.

The Covenant Sealed

"And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.

And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you." Genesis 17:1-11

This text represents the sealing of the covenant between God and Abraham. When referencing the Abrahamic covenant, Scripture says the following:

"And he gave him [Abraham] the covenant of circumcision..." Acts 7:8

God calls the covenant He made with Abraham the "covenant of circumcision." Yet, many want to ignore this aspect of the Abrahamic covenant because it does not fit into their perceptions about eternal security.

The text starts with God affirming His awesome authority and power. "I am the Almighty God." Then He tells Abraham the conditions of the covenant, "Walk before me, and be thou perfect." Lastly, God relays the promises of the covenant, "And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly." Abraham then falls on his face in submission to God.

If the covenant with Abraham was unconditional and contained no responsibilities on Abraham's part, then why is God telling Abraham to "keep" this covenant? And not only was Abraham responsible for "keeping" this covenant, but so were all the generations to come after him. The consequences for not doing so are clear.

"And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant."Genesis 17:14

This is an astounding statement! Circumcision was the seal of the covenant God made with Abraham (Romans 4:11-12).

If this covenant was unconditional, then NOTHING man did or did not do could break that covenant. That is the nature of being unconditional because the responsibility for keeping the covenant would fall solely on God. Yet, we see that such is not true.

God says that the one who is not circumsized has broken God's covenant and would be "cut off" from God's people. Is this not the same warning God gives Christians in John 15:1-6 and Romans 11:16-22 when He speaks of the possibility of being cut off from His Body?

It was possible for man to break the Abrahamic covenant through disobedience and it is possible for man to break the new covenant in Jesus Christ for the same. The result is identical, such persons are cut off from God's people.

The Pattern of the Covenant

The steps taken by God in establishing the covenant with Abraham are a pattern for what happens to believers in Christ.
  • We turn in faith to the receive the promise of God (Genesis 12:1-3; Matthew 19:26-29)
  • We experience communion with Him (Genesis 14:18-20; Revelation 3:20)
  • We undergo a merismos in our inner man (Genesis 15:17; Hebrews 4:12),
  • We are circumsized from the body of sin (Genesis 17; Colossians 2:11-13).
Yes Lord!

"But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life." Matthew 19:26-29

When first faced with the reality of who God is, Abraham had to make a choice. "Leave your country, your relatives, your father's house, and go where I tell you."

This is the choice each person is also required to make when faced with the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Leave behind your old life and follow me. It is not a matter of physical separation, but it is about being sanctified unto God for His purposes.

As with Abraham, faith empowers the choice, allowing us to step out into the unknown, trusting God to fulfill His promise: the promise of eternal life.

Communion with Christ

"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." Revelation 3:20

Like Abraham, once we turn in faith to God, we are able to commune with Jesus. Just as Abraham partook of bread and wine with Melchizedek, the King of Salem, we also partake spiritually of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

"Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." John 6:53-56

A Merismos

"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the
dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

The words "dividing asunder" above is the Greek word merismos, which speaks of an inner separation between the soul and spirit of man.

Lost in sin, our spirits are dead to God and held in bondage to the soulish realm. In that condition, we are ruled by our five carnal senses: what we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. We are unable to comprehend or submit to the things of God. Yet, in the merismos, God divides the spirit from the soul, allowing our spirits to become alive to God through regeneration.

God walking through the cut halves of the sacrifice is a picture of this merismos, the word of God dividing asunder the spirit and soul of man. The lamp symbolizing man's spirit made alive by the oil (anointing) of the Holy Spirit. The burning furnace symbolizing the soulish old man, which is placed on the altar as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1). The combined light from the Holy Spirit and the burning offering dispel the darkness as we are translated to the kingdom of light.

The Seal of Circumcision

As with Abraham, we are sealed by circumcision, but this is a spiritual circumcision and not one of the physical flesh.

"And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead." Colossians 2:10-12

The hardened, rebellious heart is circumcised so that we become pliable before God.

"For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." Romans 2:28-29

"Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings." Jeremiah 4:4

Once we are joined in covenant to God through faith in Christ, His instruction to us is the same as what it was to Abraham: "Keep my covenant."

God never absolved Abraham of responsibility in this covenant and nor did He make Himself solely responsible for keeping it on our behalf.

God is completely and absolutely faithful for doing what He has promised to do; and we must also be faithful. In the next article, we will review exactly what God means in regards to keeping His covenant.

This article is part of a 6-part series evaluating a doctrine referred to as Once Saved Always Saved, Eternal Unconditional Security, or Preservation of the Saints.

  1. God Doesn't Mince Words

  2. "IF"

  3. Salvation is a Result of Covenant
  4. Sealed Until the Day of Redemption
  5. A Candid Look at OSAS "Support"
  6. The ONLY Reason Salvation Can Be "Lost"

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