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Article: Do Not Be Turned Out of the Narrow Way!
By Walter J. Chantry

    Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.
    2 John 8 (NIV)

It will surprise no careful reader of the Bible that many warnings are given to true Christians.  Not all biblical alarms are sounded because great dangers threaten the unconverted and worldly.  In addition to the text which heads this article we find Revelation 3:11, ‘I am coming soon.  Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.’  In another place our Lord said, ‘Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved’ (Matt. 24:12-13).

Images of a Christian’s Salvation
We recall that a sudden work of grace comes to the heart of each one who is saved.  Instantaneous transformation of the inward man is called the new birth, or birth from above, in Jesus’ teaching as recorded in John 3.  Paul spoke of the same divine operation upon a human soul in Romans 6:11 as a resurrection unto life in Christ.  Immediately, one ‘has passed from death to life’, as it is put in John 5:24.

However, some make the mistake of dwelling on this sudden change as the only biblical representation of salvation.  In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke of both a narrow gate to life and beyond that a narrow pathway to be walked (Matt. 7:13-14). A farmer sowing seed is the vivid illustration of those who preach the gospel of the kingdom.  Some receive the message from this ‘farmer’ with great joy but very quickly fall away.  Others spring up soon, only to have the Word of eternal life choked out by the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth.  Yet some upon hearing the gospel endure long enough to bear fruit.

This emphasis held Jesus’ attention on the night when he was betrayed.  At the time (John 15:1-12) our Lord taught the necessity of remaining or ‘abiding’ in union with himself, just as a branch continues to be attached to the vine in order to produce fruit.  Fruitless branches are taken away and cast into the fire.

The Teaching of Perseverance in Faith and Life
It is clear that the Bible is not teaching that everyone who makes a credible profession of faith in Christ will certainly be saved in the end.  Some may confess Christ in the same terms that genuine Christians do.  They believe God has saved them.  Furthermore, it may appear to us and to all the church that they possess a very high degree of proper feeling and enthusiasm toward Christ and his Word.  Yet all of us have been shocked that some of these folks eventually abandon sound doctrine, moral living, or both.  Some of the greatest enemies of true religion once seemed to be stalwart Christians.  Commenting on this John said, ‘They (antichrists) went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us’ (1 John 2:18-19).

Endurance in Christian truth and life is an evidence of the authenticity of our faith.  Without this continuance other seeming signs of having become a Christian must be called into question.  Jesus taught in John 8:31-32:

   If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth
   will set you free.

   As Hebrews 3:14 asserts,

   We share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 

True believers persevere to the end.

It is not that perseverance joins faith as a second instrument of receiving salvation.  Rather when the sole instrument, faith in Christ, is given to a believer, then perseverance is a quality of and an evidence of that saving faith.

Enemies to the Christian’s Faith and Life
Because true faith must be enduring faith, there are enemies of Christ who wish to discredit the Saviour and faith in him by preventing our abiding in him.  Scripture represents this hostile threat by means of varying figures of speech.

The Strategy of Antichrists
Many passages of the New Testament describe the Christian life as running a race to receive a prize.  Near the end of his life Paul used this illustrative language to describe his own experience:

    I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown
    of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge, will award me on that Day, and not
    only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

To the Corinthians Paul wrote:

    Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? 
    So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do
    it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly . . .
    But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself
    should be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

The Epistle to the Hebrews urges, ‘Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us’ (Heb. 12:1).

The contrivance of Satan, the great antichrist, and all his lesser antichrists, is to prevent disciples of Jesus from gaining the prize which belongs to the winner of the race.  If only they can make contestants ‘lose what they have worked for’ (2 John 8), even the crown of life; if only antichrists might ‘seize your crown’ (Rev. 2:11) if only they could ‘disqualify you’ or make you ‘run aimlessly’ (1 Cor. 9:24-27)!

The Preferred Weapon to Disqualify Runners from Receiving the Prize
Jesus’ parable of the sower tells us that persecution, worries of life, and prevailing sins such as covetousness do keep some plants from bearing fruit.  We see a sad illustration of this in Demas who forsook the apostolic band, having loved this present world.  Yet in the New Testament epistles, in almost every instance of warning to Christians of the danger of losing one’s crown or one’s reward, the stratagem that is being used to disqualify them is actually false doctrine or teaching.

In 2 John, where the warning is of suffering loss and not gaining a full reward, John speaks of ‘many deceivers who have gone out into the world’ (verse 7).  In particular these men deny that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God (verse 7).  The apostle had previously said that ‘grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son’ come in connection with holding the truth (verses 1-3).  Those who do not abide in the teaching of Christ do not have God (verse 9).

The recipients of John’s letter were now in a church where one who was seeking power and leadership was opposing the apostolic gospel (3 John).  So this danger of losing a full reward was a very present one with them.

In Galatia (Gal. 5:7) and Philadelphia (Rev. 3:11) the saints were assaulted by Judaizers who wished to turn men aside from salvation by grace alone to salvation by works.  These teachings are not vastly different from that proclaimed by advocates of the ‘New Perspective on Paul’ which is currently troubling the churches.  The danger in Colosse of being disqualified for the race (Col. 2:18) came from new doctrines, ‘insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions’.  Such doctrines introduce subtle changes in teaching which lead people astray from the course of the Christian race and beguile men away from the reward they had originally set out to gain. 

Even while the apostles Peter, John and Paul had active ministries, these doctrinal deceptions were threatening their flocks.  Warnings had to be sounded thenToday should be no different.

Our pulpits must instill doctrinal precision in their biblical teaching and preaching.  This is not only an important consideration for those who fill pulpits (gospel ministers) and those who guard pulpits (elders).  This should be a major concern of all who are seeking a church to attend and to join with in membership.  Questions need to be pondered such as:  Does this church show deep interest in doctrine?  Does its ministry regularly teach doctrine and warn of changes in doctrine by other voices that could snatch away our crowns?

In these times congregations are less stable than in former years.  Populations are constantly shifting.  Some are compelled to move because they work for vast corporations who move them about.  Others migrate into new regions for reasons of their own choice.  However, this movement uproots multitudes from the churches which once taught them.  In new communities they are confronted with a confusing menu of places to worship.  If you have been part of a church which conscientiously held to a confession of faith linked to the Protestant Reformation, you should more deeply appreciate that stabilizing aspect of church life.  With new faces ever entering our congregations, the systematic re-teaching of doctrinal foundations is of the utmost importance.  New fads in teaching are desirable neither for our own steadfastness in the faith nor for the reliability of our congregations.

Quite apart from Christians’ moving to new regions, there is a restless moving from church to church by those who continue living in one place.  It is a sort of religious ‘musical chairs’.  We do consciously make changes in other important features of our lives.  We may move up to a more spacious home as our families grow.  Or we may move down to smaller quarters as we age and the children leave home.  This is only a practical necessity.  But what is behind the moving from church to church?  Some questions to ask yourself might be:

   1.  Is one church’s insistence on doctrinal clarity like an uncomfortable garment which has
    become too tight?
    2.  Is forceful teaching of the moral commandments becoming too demanding of my
    conscience?
    3.  Have I come to love a more ‘relaxed’ atmosphere in worship?
    4.  Does that mean that the new church has become more inclusive of a variety of
    doctrines and lifestyles?
    5.  Is that safe for me if I am in a race of endurance in which I intend to win the prize
    of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus?
    6.  Do I need to pummel myself, as do serious athletes, or as Christ did, he who
    suffered unto blood, striving against sin?

Are you trading up in your religion, or trading down?  If you ran well for a time, what now hinders you?  Since you are moving so much from church to church, do you now tolerate doctrines and habits of life you once would not have countenanced?  Is it possible that in a few years you will make a further move downward?

Could it be personality, entertainment, comfort in not needing to think deeply or search your heart so thoroughly, that are driving you?  Does the new style of church life you have chosen prod you to stand fast, to run so as to win?  Are you open to new doctrines which move you toward the world you once forsook?

Some, however, who are changing churches, are moving up spiritually.  They have gone from congregations that have drifted away from doctrinal carefulness.  At one time their churches had effectively preached the Scriptures.  Now they have become shallow and careless, leaving hungry hearts dissatisfied.  These believers are moving toward churches with serious worship, careful study of God’s Word and confessional standards.  All movement is not into doctrinally dangerous territory.  Some want to be helped by their church’s teaching to run the race with patience.  Some want early warnings of false doctrine which may ‘cut in on them’ and disqualify them for the crown.  What is it that you deem important in a church?

    ‘Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.’
    ‘Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.’
    ‘Those who endure to the end will be saved.’
    ‘Buy the truth, and sell it not’ (Prov. 23:23)!
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An article from the Banner of Truth Magazine, February 2009
 

 

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