Monday, 9 November 2020

THE FRUITLESS BRANCH

 

In John 15:6, the branch that does not abide in the Vine is thrown away and burnt (judged). Does this mean that a believer can lose his salvation?

“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6).

The above verse is difficult and open to debate as it suggests that believers can lose their salvation. However, some think otherwise, saying that the passage in John 15 is about bearing fruit and not salvation.

On one hand, we want to be faithful to the truth found in God’s Word. On the other hand, we do not want to create a false alarm and cause unwarranted fear.

Let us delve into the passage to get a full picture of its meaning:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

(John 15:1-8)

In John 15, Jesus was addressing His disciples. Using an allegory familiar to God’s people (grapevine as in Isaiah 5:1-7), Jesus revealed to them God’s purpose in saving them: He wants them to bear fruit. Jesus paints a picture of Himself as the Vine, Father God as the vinedresser, and the disciples as the branches that form a part of the Vine. The purpose of anyone who plants a vineyard is to get a bountiful harvest of grapes. If the grapevine merely produces branches and leaves, the farmer’s hard work has gone to waste. 

“I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

This first part of the verse shows that Jesus was addressing his disciples (genuine believers) as the branches are arising from and drawing nourishment from the Vine (Christ).

What happens to the fruitless branch? According to John 15:2: “every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away.” Some think that God lifts up the branch so that it receives more sunlight and this might promote fruit-bearing. But this position is quickly dismissed by John 15:6: If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. This verse 6 has grave implications as the fruitless branch is part of the Vine (as suggested by ‘in Me’) and thus refers to genuine believers who fail to abide in the Vine (Christ).

To abide is to remain in fellowship with Christ, study God’s Word and obey His commands. “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). 

How does a believer choose not to abide in Christ the Vine? Even genuine believers can depart from the faith, commit apostasy, deny God or willfully live in sin as many verses attest to this falling away. It all boils down to our free will/volition which enables believers to choose either to abide in Christ or turn our backs on God.

“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14).

Notice the following:

  • 1.    Even genuine believers can depart from the faith.
  • 2.    Unbelief, hardness of heart and sin’s deceitfulness cause believers to fall.
  • 3.    God’s promise of eternal life awaits those who are steadfast in their faith till the end.

If the farmer sees no fruit from the grapevine, he is likely to chop it down. Similarly, God has no tolerance for dead wood. The fruitless branch (genuine believer who chooses to depart from Christ) will be taken away (John 15:2) or, more specifically, cast out as useless, becomes withered and is burnt (John 15:6).

Now ‘fire’ in scriptures has different connotations. It can be positive as in the case of gold refined by fire (Malachi 3:2-3). Or it can be also be positive as in baptism of fire (Luke 3:16) or tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). However, in John 15:6, fire speaks of destruction (negative). A genuine believer who fails to abide (fruitless branch) will be judged, face destruction by fire and lose his salvation. References where ‘fire’ is associated with destruction, God’s wrath and judgment include: Genesis 19:24, Matthew 25:41, Luke 9:54, Hebrews 12:29 and Jude 7.

Now, you might ask, is there any supporting evidence elsewhere in the Bible for such a harsh view?

Fruit-bearing * is a very important part of a believer’s life. “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”(Matthew 3:8-10). This means, in effect, believers cannot depend on their position in church or spiritual heritage; they need to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

The prophet Isaiah described the Lord planting a vineyard, hoping to get a harvest of good grapes but it only yielded wild grapes. Now the vineyard symbolised the people of Judah. God looked for fruits (justice and righteousness) in their lives but was disappointed. As a result, God threatened to destroy them (Isaiah 5:1-7).

In the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30, while addressing His disciples, Jesus warned that fruitlessness will incur God’s judgment. Jesus condemned the one-talent man who buried his talent and failed to multiply it: “You wicked and lazy servant!” (Matthew 25:26). What happened to him? He was cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:30). In contrast, the two servants who multiplied their talents were commended and given fresh responsibilities.

Paul told the Gentiles not to be proud or complacent that they have been chosen over the Jews; it is because the latter rejected God. Gentiles have to realise there is a condition to be met if they want to remain in God's favour (Romans 11:17-22). "Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off" (Romans 11:22). To ‘continue in His kindness’ is to abide in Christ in obedience to His commands.

Jesus cursed the fruitless fig tree in a way that seems inconsistent with His meek and mild image—one who welcomes children with open arms and heals with compassion (Mark 11:12-14, Mark 11:20). This drives home the point that God’s judgment on fruitlessness is indeed severe.

Notice the various ‘agriculture theme’ allegories used to emphasise the danger of fruitlessness as it brings about God’s judgment:

Grapevine: John 15:6, Isaiah 5:1-7

Fig tree: Mark 11:12-14

Tree: Matthew 3:8-10

Now let us deal with the possible objections to my stance regarding John 15: 6—that believers will lose their salvation (be cast away and burnt) if they choose not to abide in Christ.

Those who say this passage refers to a professing believer and not a genuine believer fail to recognise that Christ mentioned the fruitless branch is ‘in Me’ in John 15:2. This fruitless branch is growing out of the Vine, Christ Himself. Thus the fruitless branch represents a genuine believer. Furthermore, Jesus was addressing his disciples (genuine believers) in John 15:5. This point about ‘professing believers’ is a lame argument put forward by eternal security adherents and Calvinists in order to fit into their man-made doctrine, ‘Once saved, Always Saved’.

Others assert that no one can snatch a believer out from God’s hand. “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand (John 10: 28-29). But they ignore the condition set forth in the preceding verse, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). Yes, no one can snatch believers out from God’s hand provided they continue to abide in Christ and obey Him. What if believers choose to depart from God, deny God or willfully live in sin? This passage in John 10: 27-29 does not promise that God is obligated to hold the hand of such unfaithful believers and keep them eternally safe and secure.

Another argument raised by eternal security adherents is found in John chapter 6. “This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40).

However, more accurate exegesis shows that it is only those who keep looking at the Son, and keep on obeying Him have eternal life and Jesus will raise them up on the last day (John 6:39-40). Jesus taught that assurance of salvation comes to those who continue to follow and obey Him. Our salvation is not secured by a one-time following or obeying.

Notice that Judas was lost though he was “given” to Jesus by the Father as one of the twelve disciples. “Those that Thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition” (John 17:12).

Source: https://www.jesuswordsonly.com/topicindex/657-john-6-39-40-biased-mistranslations.html

The two references advanced by eternal security proponents (John 10: 28-29 and John 6: 39-40) epitomise the danger of eisegesis (viewing scriptures through the lens of eternal security) rather than allowing scriptures to speak for itself (exegesis).

The positive take-home message of John chapter 15 is that genuine believers—as branches attached to the Vine (Christ)—need to abide in Christ so that they might bear much fruit  *  (John 15:2b, John 15:8). This is consistent with Paul’s teaching that believers are saved for good works which God has prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2: 8-10).

On the other hand, John 15 also issues a grave warning: Genuine believers who choose not to abide in the Vine (Christ) will be cast away and burnt—face God’s judgment and lose their salvation. Being detached from the Vine, they are unable to draw life-giving nutrients from the Vine and thus remain fruitless. And the danger of fruitlessness is illustrated by Christ who cursed the barren fig tree.

This difficult verse—John 15:6—is an example of a harsh but relevant truth that needs to be taught more often. Everyone welcomes “feel good” teaching but when the unpleasant truth is presented, we become uncomfortable, squirm in our seats (John 6:60) and think of various ways why a particular verse cannot mean what it explicitly says. And so we try to twist that verse so that it becomes more acceptable to us and our belief in eternal security. 

Theologians can make things complicated, especially when they allow their preconceived ideas (eternal security) to colour their perception. This allegory in John chapter 15 on the Vine (Christ) and the branches is actually straightforward:

  • 1.    Audience: Genuine believers are the branches (John 15:2, John 15:5a).
  • 2.    Positive message: Abide in the Vine (Christ) in order to bear much fruit (John 15:5b, John 15:8).
  • 3.    Warning: Genuine believers who do not abide in the Vine (Christ) are not only fruitless but will be cast out and burnt (face judgment in hell). This means loss of salvation (John 15:6).

Like the fruitless branch that is cast away and burnt, genuine believers who fail to abide in the Vine (Christ) face the possibility of losing their salvation.


POSTSCRIPT

*    What are the types of “spiritual fruit” God expects us, as believers, to bear?

 There are various types of “spiritual fruit”:

Fruit of good works (Colossians 1:10)

Fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:11)

Fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23)

Fruit of evangelism—lives impacted by Paul’s ministry (2 Corinthians 3:2)

Fruit of lips—praising God (Hebrews 13:15)

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Monday, 26 October 2020

DOES REGENERATION PRECEDE FAITH?

 Renowned Calvinist teacher, R. C. Sproul, once made a bold statement: 

                                                                  


Many Calvinists assert that people are so sinful that unless God first brings about regeneration they won’t believe in the Gospel. To such Calvinists, the correct sequence is regeneration, faith, salvation.

Similarly, John Piper, a Calvinistic pastor, asserts:

“We can say, first, that regeneration is the cause of faith… Having been born of God results in our believing. Our believing is the immediate evidence of God’s begetting.”

In this blog article, I shall address this issue: “Regarding salvation, does regeneration precede faith or does faith precede regeneration?”

Calvinists insist that man is spiritually dead in sin (‘total depravity’), the ‘T’ of the acronym TULIP) to the extent that he is unable to respond to the life-giving Gospel. According to their line of reasoning, God must infuse life to the corpse (cause regeneration) before they can believe God’s revealed truth. Is this argument valid?

If man is spiritually dead like a corpse, as Calvinists assert, why does Satan need to blind people’s minds? This shows man may be sinful but he can still respond to God’s grace (through an act of the will by faith). "Even if our Gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

In the Parable of the Sower, “some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up” (Matthew 13:4). The birds represent Satan who takes away the precious Word of God so that it will not be able to convict sinners. Would such action on Satan’s part be necessary if man were a spiritual corpse in ‘total depravity’?

It is strange that Berean-like believers who study scriptures from cover to cover, not influenced by the Calvinist axiom above would naturally come to the opposite conclusion―faith precedes regeneration.

Many of us love John 3:16 about God’s great love and how He longs to save all who believe in Christ; we are able to recite it with ease. But the preceding verses (John 3:14-15) about the saving virtue of the bronze serpent seem less familiar.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

This account is a throwback to a bygone era when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, after having escaped from slavery in Egypt (Numbers 21: 4-9). Despite receiving manna from heaven, they grumbled against God and Moses, wanting something more. God, in His wrath, sent fiery serpents which bit and killed many of them. Realising their sin, they pleaded with Moses for help. Following God’s instructions, Moses set a bronze serpent on a pole. Those who had been bitten by serpents were instructed by Moses to look at the bronze serpent on the pole so that they would not die.

Now this bronze serpent on a pole is a symbol of Christ crucified on the cross. In the same way the  Israelites lookedas an act of faithat the bronze serpent on the pole to stay alive, people just have to look to Christ on the cross, believe in His finished work, and they will be saved.

Is there any hint that regeneration occurred before they believed in the bronze serpent or Christ? No. In both instances, they merely exercised their free will―by choosing to believe―in the healing/saving virtue of the bronze serpent and Christ, respectively. The former were spared from physical death from snake bites; the latter from spiritual death because of sin. Believe, look to the bronze serpent and live! Believe, look to Christ and live! Regeneration is not mentioned at all; it certainly does not precede faith.

To further substantiate my stance, let us review several other verses:

We are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).

For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day (John 6:40).

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household (Acts 16:31).

Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Galatians 3:6)

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:11).

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God (1 John 5:1).

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

God’s grace is manifested through the sacrificial death of Christ at the cross, whereby He took the penalty for man’s sin. Instead of man being punished for our sin, Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb and took the punishment we so rightly deserved. As God’s wrath was poured on the crucified Christ, believers no longer have to bear the penalty of sin. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers.

But how does this grace become effectual in the lives of people? To illustrate, let’s use an analogy. In this coronavirus pandemic season, new vaccines have been fast-tracked and made available to save lives. But how do avail ourselves of its benefits? Of course, we must go to the nearest clinic or hospital to have the injection. .

Just like going for a jab that we might be protected against Covid-19, faith is the means by which gain access to God’s saving grace. Reading or hearing about the benefits of the vaccine is futile―like giving intellectual assent to the fact that Jesus died for our sins.

The only way we can be saved is through faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross (Ephesians 2:8-9). Good works or zealous attempts to keep the Law can never save us (Titus 3:5).

Without faith and repentance, there is no regeneration. Or to put it another way: faith and repentance on the part of man precede regeneration. God isn't going to do the believing and repentance for man. http://bit.ly/2clNM0E

Jesus: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

So, going back to the original bone of contention, the biblical view is that faith precedes regeneration … as opposed to the axiom by R. C. Sproul above.

To summarise: Faith with repentance result in salvation and regeneration.

The above axiom by renowned Calvinist, R. C. Sproul, reminds believers once again not to be mesmerised by illustrious teachers with many followers. As believers, we always need to scrutinise each and every teaching against the infallible Word of God, and not simply accept any big name’s teaching or doctrine based on his fame or stature.  Be like a Berean: https://bit.ly/3mBHGvF

Having a superior mind does not mean one knows God better. Intellectual prowess is not equal to spiritual maturity & discernment.



Regeneration Defined

Regeneration is a supernatural act whereby God imparts new life to a sinner who chooses to believe in Christ. The basis of the new birth is Christ’s sacrificial death at the cross. The indispensable condition for this rebirth is personal faith in Christ.

The concept of regeneration (rebirth) is elucidated in John chapter 3. Nicodemus, a Jewish religious teacher, came to Jesus at night to learn more about Him. Jesus told him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). When Nicodemus questioned the idea of rebirth, Jesus reiterated, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3: 5).

Rebirth is a supernatural act of the Holy Spirit, who is likened to a wind that sweeps into a believer’s life.  “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). This unique process of rebirth will always remain a mystery, like an invisible wind coming from different directions, as it is supernatural, unlike normal childbirth.

When the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin through the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), they confess their sins and believe in Christ, thus initiating the process of regeneration. “When He (Holy Spirit) comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:8-9). “For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).

In what ways will regeneration benefit a believer? First, he becomes a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Second, he becomes a child of God; God is His Father, Abba (Rom 8:15-16). Third, he becomes a partaker of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). Fourth, he is seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Ephesians 2:6), is ‘more than a conqueror’ (Romans 8:37) and shares in Christ’s victory over sin, the world and the devil (1 John 3:8-9, 1 John 4:4, 1 John 5:4-5). Lastly, he is delivered from the fear of death to which he has been subject to life-long bondage (Hebrews 2:15).

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EXTERNAL LINK

DOES REGENERATION PRECEDE FAITH?

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