Thursday, July 31, 2014

Rethinking My Position On Conditional Time Salvation

A Sermon Preached By Elder Thomas Mann, June 30, 2002

I want to talk to you out of my heart this morning, and I ask for your continuing prayers. I need to make probably an apology at the beginning of today's sermon, especially to our visitors because the topic that I want to deal with today is particularly one that has to do with those who are acquainted with Primitive Baptists. And I would like to try to share some things that I believe are biblical and right but mostly what I want to do today is define a problem which I'm concerned about. And then in the coming weeks perhaps, have opportunity to share some of the biblical solutions to that.

So don't get unnerved or alarmed, this is not a call to war or anything like that. Sheep are sometimes easily alarmed and that's not my purpose, but I just ask you to be prayerful and charitable as I try to plow through some things that are on my heart. It relates to the subject of what we will call, or what has been called among our people, the subject of conditional time salvation. Conditional time salvation. Now that term is a term used, as far as I know, only by Primitive Baptists but it has other names so that it is a situation that arises in other religious circles, as well as our own and we'll get to that in just a moment.

The doctrine of conditional time salvation, I'm convinced at least in its extreme forms is not biblical. That is not to say that there aren't some strengths to it which I will try to address; I’ll let you know as best I can, a balanced perspective on the doctrine of time salvation. I must first acknowledge that in my own journey, my own odyssey called life, 20 years of preaching, starting out as a boy preacher 17 years of age, you just do a lot of dumb things. You know, when you're a kid and you come to regret a lot of those things and you especially come to regret them when they're all preserved on tape. Be glad you're not a preacher at least in this generation, everything is on tape; you’re in trouble.

Now I know a lot of preachers who struggle with this, including some big-name preachers. I mean people you hear on the radio and see on television struggle because they realize as they grow in their study of the word that maybe a position they once took just isn't quite there. It may not be altogether wrong, but maybe the emphasis was wrong. And that's my plea today on this doctrine, is that while I once preached conditional time salvation, vigorously and believed it, I've come to see that perhaps there are some errors in that doctrine and that the emphasis at least is wrong. And I'd like to try to share with you why that's the case.

So you can see already that this is not my usual way of preaching; this is not the kind of thing you'll usually hear from me. I don't like to preach as if I'm in a debate. A lot of preachers, that's the only way they know to preach; is as if it’s a debate going on. I'm up here ready to pound the next guy and when I get him pounded I'll move on to the next one. And that's not my way and I don't really believe that it's the right one.

But there are times when we have to really slice things carefully. There are times when we have to come down to the very contours, the very edges, of God’s shape and form and that's where you make enemies. When you start slicing. That's where you run into challenges when you say God has contours and we’re going to try to define those today. That's where the challenges arise. I want to try to do that to some extent today and perhaps this opens the topic for discussion over the next few weeks, depending on how the Lord leads.

But as I preached conditional time salvation in the past, it certainly was from a heart that believed this to be the truth and the right way to divide the word of God. And I want to say that if you do not agree with me today, that's okay. There are two things you need to know. One is I believe what I'm going to preach today. I want you to know that. And two, you are not obligated to agree with me but you are obligated to love me. Biblically that's what I want you to know.

Now if the scriptural evidence stacks up in your mind, I hope that you will consider what I say and the Lord will give understanding. And I hope that the Lord will lead us all, and please do know that I've spent many, many hours and frankly many years in the study of this topic and I do preach from the overflow today.

So when a man has to stand before a congregation and say I've been wrong, it's a humbling thing. I’ve preached some things in years past; it's been many years now, but in the past that I believe were probably a wrong emphasis. It's a humbling thing to say that and it underscores something I think is very important. Acts 17:11. The Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica.

Why? Because they searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so. How critical, how important! And it's not that the preacher is to be looked at as just an average “old Joe”. He is just that, a man; but he is a man sent from God and he is a man who is commissioned by God to spend extra hours in the Bible that probably no one else has the time to spend. And so he pours over these things in great detail; prays in the closet over these things, consults the help of others who have been spiritual minded and have studied the word as well and comes to conclusions not based on some whimsical fancy or a dream he had one night, but based upon his diligent study in the word.

So it's humbling to say I've been off, but I have to just say that. I think it was Augustine who said “I would rather be right, than consistent”. And there's a great deal of truth in that. I would rather have the truth than to just be consistently wrong. So may God, again, grant us all understanding.

Let me try to get into this a little bit. I'm going to read a verse and then go. John 20:31 I think helps to put our finger on this to some degree. The apostle John writing. John 20:31 gives the purpose for the writing of the book of John. Here's the reason he wrote the book. John 20:31 says:

"But these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

Now whatever else that verse says or implies, it lets us know that belief in Christ and eternal life are married. These two things are married; they are joined together, believing in Christ and eternal life. My simple contention is "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."

I'd like to suggest that the doctrine of conditional time salvation tends to put these things asunder. Let me try to definite it as best I can. It's a hard one to get our arms around so let me try to define it. Some of this you will agree with; some of it you won't. And I think you'll see why this is so complex a thing. You have to really think to get at where the challenges are in this doctrine. First of all, the doctrine of conditional time salvation suggests that no conditional verse in the Bible has any eternal implication. Say that again. It suggests that no conditional verse in the Bible has any eternal implication.

A conditional verse would be one that would say, “If you do this, then such will happen”. If you continue in my word then you will be my disciples indeed, or such things as that. You are made partakers of Christ if you continue steadfastly in the faith; firm unto the end. Conditional verses like this that seem to place a great deal of responsibility upon us as people. So conditional time salvation would suggest that there is no way that any of those verses could have eternal or heavenly ramifications because you wind up with work salvation, and it's a valid point.

It suggests that there are actually two salvations taught in the Bible. But there is one salvation for heaven which is all of grace and one salvation for time, that's where we get conditional time salvation; one salvation for time, which is largely dependent upon our works. Again there's some validity to that idea.

It builds a wall of separation between eternity and time. Oh, this verse applies to eternity and that verse applies to time, as if the two don't meet. One of the first things I began to realize in my journey along on this subject was, you know we talk about the afterlife as if it's another life, and it isn't. It's all one eternal life, right? You, if you're born again, have been given eternal life now and Jesus said the one who believes on me will never die. It doesn't mean the body doesn't die, but He means that you've been given something that will live on forever in fellowship with God for eternity.

Conditional time salvation tends to build a wall between eternity and time, which I don't think the Scripture supports.

There is a wall built between the objective reality of salvation, and the subjective experience of salvation. Try that one again. A wall built between the objective reality of salvation, that is that salvation really happens and it's truly in your future and all of that, and a separate thing, the subjective experience of it. How I feel about salvation in my heart.

Probably the most disturbing part of it to me is this. It suggests that many, at least in its extreme forms, it suggests that many of God's people, many saved people, never come to an awareness of their salvation or never come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior or that they never produce fruit in their life but they live essentially in a spiritual, vegetative state all their life. Of course the implications of this would go something like this. It would suggest that simply because American Indians worship the Great Spirit, that's indication that they're born again. Well, now it's possible that God had people among the American Indians; I wouldn’t argue that point. But what I would argue, I would refute the notion that because a person worships an idol god, that means he’s born again. The Bible teaches everywhere that God's Spirit draws a person to Christ and not away from Christ; not toward an idol but to Jesus. So it is not an evidence of grace just because a person worships an idol god. Okay?

So I think that there are some fuzzy areas there, in the doctrine of conditional time salvation. I was intrigued last year to run across this quote from none other than Billy Graham. Now Billy Graham is not an advocate of the doctrines of grace. I think you all probably know that. I have a measure of respect for him, but I do not agree with his theology and especially this aspect of it.

Billy Graham was being interviewed by Robert Schuller. Robert Schuller again is not one that I believe teaches the truth; his self-esteemed gospel. He said that the greatest need the human race has ever had is the need for self-esteem. I believe the greatest need the human race has ever had is the need for salvation, for Christ. That's the greatest need anyone could ever have. Robert Schuller's view then I think, has brought it down to a man-centered religion and turned Christianity into the doctrines of man, rather than of God.

He asked Billy Graham this question in an interview sometime back. “Tell me. What do you think is the future of Christianity"? Billy Graham answers. He gives some things and then he says this. “I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ”. Now I believe that everybody who knows Christ and loves Christ is a member of the body of Christ; that's a given. Everybody who loves Christ and knows Christ is a member of His body and is truly saved. But the part that's questionable to me is, “whether they are conscious or not”. Did you hear that part? And it sends a disconnect into my brain and biblically I have trouble with it for this reason. How can you love someone so lovely as Christ and not know it?

There's a challenge there, isn't there? Now admittedly we must, because probably someone is asking this question in your mind, we must say that there are examples of individuals who have loved Christ without being able to articulate that love. That is,they can't speak it real clearly. For example, infants. If an infant is elect of God and dies in infancy, what happens? It goes right to be with God. Could that infant articulate its love for Christ as an infant? Of course not, but the Bible doesn't spend a lot of time on that. And what I want to try to do in the next weeks, if again the Lord leads in this, is to try to stick with the Scriptures. Because I have literally argued till I was blue in the face with, not people in this church, but people across the country who asked me questions about this. And invariably if you get off into speculation, “Well now, what about this, what about that, what about this ramification, what about that implication” it starts getting real foggy, but if you can just keep saying “Well, let's try to come back to what the Scripture says. Let's come back to the Bible on this”. It's amazing how things start to shift and fall into place.

So Billy Graham's comment about whether they’re conscious or not, reminds us of what I'm saying is an extreme of this doctrine of which I'm speaking today. He says this, Dr. Billy Graham says, “God's purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name. And that's what God is doing”. “He’s calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world or the Buddhist world or the Christian world…or the nonbelieving world. They are members of the Body of Christ because they've been called by God”.

It's subtle because you know, we all believe in the call of God, don't we? And God can reach His people wherever they are. Muslim, Buddhist, or otherwise. But did you notice how he equated Buddhist, Muslim and Christian? Put them on one side and the unbelieving world on the other. That's a mistake and we’ll show you why in a few minutes, Lord willing. “They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have, and they turn to only light that they have. And I think that they are saved and that they’re going to be with us in heaven”.

Now, again I would not suggest that it’s impossible that an individual in a foreign land without the benefit and aid of the gospel, the Bible, the church, or anything else. I certainly believe it's possible that an individual like that could be called by God. Because why? We believe in a sovereign, Holy Spirit. Right? Who reaches whom He will, where He will, when He will. We believe in that, but the question is, does a person who has then been reached by the Holy Spirit stay in this element of ignorance and darkness? That's the question? Pursuing the worship of a heathen god or is he drawn to Christ?

Schuller said this: “I am so thrilled to hear you say this. There’s a wideness in God's mercy”. And of course we know there is, but not in the way he's thinking. My point in bringing that up, is that extreme forms of conditional time salvation will tend to say, there are many, many people, in fact most people are saved but never know that they're saved. They never become conscious of their salvation or the blessings that are to be had in it. It's a kind of, “I'll regenerate you today, pat you on the back and see you again in the resurrection”. Eliminating, which is my next point in trying to define this, it eliminates the fact, the notion, the biblical notion that sanctification, growth in grace, daily growth in grace, is a definite part of the salvation package.

Now those of you who join us for Wednesday nights, know that that's been a drumbeat. We just keep coming back to that in our study of Romans; it’s just a continual drumbeat. You are hearing it again and again and again. What? That sanctification is a guaranteed part of the salvation package. Now not everyone is as sanctified as everyone else is, in the spiritual realm. Not everyone grows at the same rate everyone else does. I may die a spiritual baby; you may die a spiritual giant but the fact is that both of us have progressed in our growth in grace. A baby, by virtue of the fact that it is a baby, grows. And a child of God, by the virtue of the fact that he has God’s Spirit in him, grows in grace. And I realize I'm just giving these as assertions today but I've got it do that because I just can't give you all of this material and the scriptural evidence all in one dose. It's got to be done in dribs and drabs. So let's try to continue that way.

So the doctrine of conditional time salvation tends to limit salvation to such things as predestination, redemption, regeneration and resurrection, and eliminates the sanctification part of this thing.

So, in short one of the objections that I had to the doctrine when I first began to see this years ago, was that it becomes an Arminian system applied to time. By Arminianism we are talking about the doctrine that man's free will is what turns the point. Now there are various shades of that too and that's not my purpose to try to explain or get it at that doctrine,but it is the doctrine which stands as an opposition to the more Calvinistic line of thinking if you're using theological terms or the doctrines of grace line of thinking. Arminianism would suggest of course that a man has the opportunity to be saved and when he makes the decision, he will become saved. Well the Bible, in my estimation, doesn't teach that. It teaches that God is the one who makes the decision, but it also teaches that man will follow Christ. Man will follow Christ and so we just don't want to get the cart before the horse. What I found though years ago, I remember hearing men stand up and preach, “Salvation in heaven is all of grace”. And I loved that; that's exactly right. You can't do a thing to earn it. But then they would turn and say, “But if you want to be blessed in time, you've got to work for it”. Alright? Subtle, again because there's an element of truth in that, isn't there?

"...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13)

Which that verse just, man, that's such a great verse because it marries the two concepts: man's responsibility, God’s sovereignty. You’re to work out your salvation? That is, you’re to work out what God has worked in? And God is working in your heart the whole time; we couldn't do it if it weren't for Him.

A problem that I remember having, this collision of thoughts in my brain years ago, probably fifteen years ago, I was thinking why is it that we have applied, we have made time salvation, Arminian? And it was easy to study the Bible in those days because every hard verse, every verse that seemed to have sounded like an Arminian, have you ever read the Bible and said “Well, I guess that's a verse you know for the Arminians? That's a verse for the Catholics, and this is a verse for the old Baptists over here”.

No, that's not the way the Bible works. But every hard verse I’d come across, I say, “Oh, that goes in the conditional time salvation bucket. That's just for time, it isn't for eternity. Admittedly there are many verses that fit that category, but I think I became overzealous in dumping too many there and not realizing that some of these verses have a greater punch to them than I allowed. So what it came to be was, heaven is by grace but your blessings in time are by your works.

Yes, "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword…"(Isaiah 1:19-20)

But let's give some thought to why a man might consider being willing and obedient. Is it not the influence of grace in the heart? Do you see that even our blessings in time are purchased by grace? They are themselves blessing of grace. Do you see that? Well, that kind of helps us get at the doctrine, a little bit. An Arminian system applied to time.

If we move outside the circles of Primitive Baptist thinking and look at the greater Christian world around us, conditional time salvation has several cousins I have found. In fact, some of them are just different names for the same thing. Some of these cousins go like this, let me just name a few of them. One of them you'll hear, if you listen to Christian radio, you’ll hear people especially like John MacArthur talk about no-lordship salvation. No lordship salvation. What he means by no Lordship salvation is this, the doctrine is that man can have Jesus as Savior but he doesn't have to have Him as Lord.

Now if we split that up, we've got again something God has joined together that man has put asunder. Let's try that again. That Jesus can be your Savior, yet not your Lord. Now, admittedly again, subtlety. Admittedly there are times in my life when Jesus isn’t really Lord of the decision I make. You all affirm that? There are times that I find that I made a decision on my own and Jesus really wasn't Lord, in that moment as far as my experience is concerned.

But the Scriptures indicate everywhere that the one Jesus saves, He also rules. I mean, every second of every day? We wouldn't be sinners if that were true. But that the general reign of Christ exists in the life of a saved person. But there are multitudes today who say what? “Just make a decision. Just make a decision today. Let me get you to a rock concert and bang your brain with high voltage amplification, shriek and scream out some so-called Christian lyrics and at the end give a little plea that you make a decision for the poor beggar Jesus”. And multitudes follow that pattern and write back to their home offices how many people made decisions for Christ and they assume by that, those individuals had become saved. Well it's so far from the truth. I'm not going to spend a lot of time on that. That's just not a biblical way. It's just not a biblical doctrine. But what has happened there? We have developed this cheap view of grace. God is just wanting to populate heaven. He’s not interested in His glory, He just wants a lot of people in heaven. If God is interested in His glory, you know what God is going to do? He's going to save an individual and then make him look like he’s saved, so that he reflects the glory of God.

No-lordship salvation then is an error in the religious world and many, many churches, which again hold that Jesus can be your Savior but He isn't your Lord. You can go on and live your own life but after all you've got your name written in the Lamb's book of life, and it becomes simply fire insurance.

The second cousin of conditional time salvation is the doctrine that we’ll call inclusivism. Inclusivism is the view that we heard from Dr. Graham there are a few moments ago and Dr. Schuller. Inclusivism is the view that, it really doesn't matter whether there's any fruit in your life or not; something like this. I don't want to caricature the position but I've got to kind of get it there before we can get our arms around it. Let me just try to illustrate it this way. If you pet your dog three times once a week, surely you must be saved.

It's this wider mercy view that if there is any inclination toward morality, goodness in any sense of the term, those must be evidences of grace. Of course that develops into the third one, universalism, which is the view that everybody will be saved ultimately. There'll be nobody in hell. Now I'd love to believe that doctrine but the Bible won't let me. Everywhere in the Bible, I mean we find it again and again:

"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment…"(Matthew 25:46)

"...prepared for the devil and his angels"(v.41)

It wasn't even prepared for people originally. I don't want to get into a debate with you about what comes first, chickens or eggs. But that verse lets us know that God prepared hell. He prepared the lake of fire for the devil and his angels. But of course God, being omniscient, knowing all things from the beginning of creation and before, certainly took into account that there would be a non-elect. There would be an unsaved people, but those people would be sent into a place prepared for the devil and his angels. Revelation twenty describes all those whose names were not written in the book of life, being cast into that place of punishment.

So there is a hell. There is hell. So we can’t come to the position of the Universalists who says, “Everybody’s pretty much going to heaven”. I've known several Primitive Baptists who believe that. Everybody's going to heaven. There is absolutely no exception. Everybody will be in heaven, they believe. I've known several Primitive Baptists who wouldn't go quite that far but would say, “I've never met anybody that wasn't a child of God”. Every time anybody ever said that to me, I said “Have you ever been to college”?

Inclusivism. Wider mercy which develops into universalism.

And then there's another term you’ll hear from time to time, and that is the term hyper-Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism. And most of the time Primitive Baptists are identified as hyper-Calvinists and I'm sorry that that's the case. Hyper-Calvinism is the view that tends to emphasize God’s sovereignty at the expense of man's responsibility. And I think that we've seen some of that among our people where we've seen people talk about God's sovereignty. God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty. And never mention the fact that God also expects obedience of His creatures. And I think many of our churches have closed as a result of the fact that not too many preachers were faithful to preach what many have called duty.

When I was first coming along, I felt such a burden to preach on practical doctrines, practical things, you know. How we are to behave in the house of God, what we’re supposed to do, because I hadn't heard much of that in my life. My father was faithful to preach it. A lot of people didn't like to hear him preach because he’d just get up there and preach what you’re supposed to do instead of what God has done. We need to preach both.

Hyper-Calvinism tends to separate the two and emphasize more God’s part and less man's responsibility. Whereas the Bible marries the two again, puts them together. God is sovereign and man is responsible, and those two are friends, not enemies. That's all I can say about that.

Conditional time salvation. Think about some strengths of this doctrine. The doctrine of conditional time salvation rightly understands that not every time you see the word saved or salvation in the Bible is it referring to heaven. It's true. I can prove it to you. Don't think that every time you see the word saved or salvation in the Bible that it's talking about being saved for heaven. It's not. We must rightly divide the word of truth. An example, if you have your Bibles you may want to look at this one. 1 Timothy 2:15 as an example, shows us that there is salvation in time; deliverance in time that really doesn't have eternal implications, so far as I can tell. 1 Timothy 2:15, speaking of the woman who was deceived in the transgression:

"Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing...[now there you go]...if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”

Now to all the women in the congregation who’ve never borne a child, hell is your home. No. That's not what that text is teaching. To all the women in the congregation whose children have not continued in faith and holiness with sobriety, hell is your home. That’s not what that verse is teaching at all. It's simply speaking about the fact that there is a deliverance in the woman's position of responsibility, authority and honor that comes in childbirth. It's a blessing for a woman to be able to bring forth children into the world and influence them in the faith, in holiness, in sobriety, you see. For the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

So there’s a verse that obviously shows the word saved doesn't always mean eternal salvation. Another you’re familiar with would be 1 Peter 3:21:

"The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us…"

All you unbaptized people in the congregation, you're going to hell. Is that what that verse is teaching? No. Is baptism important? Absolutely. If you love Jesus and believe in Him, it is disobedience on your part not to be baptized. That’s rebellion. God isn’t honored by that.

But the verse is not saying that people go to hell who missed baptism. The thief on the cross is a classic example. We know he went to heaven, for Jesus said, “Today, this very hour, within this 24-hour span, you will be with me in paradise”. So if that wasn’t heaven, it's where Jesus is. That's good enough, isn't it? That is heaven. Wherever Jesus is, is heaven to the child of God.

He wasn’t baptized. Baptism is a deliverance, my friends. Much like Noah was delivered from the connection to the filthiness of an ungodly world around him, by the flood and by the ark. So a child of God in baptism identifies with Jesus and separates himself from this ungodly world and is delivered from that company. There is a deliverance for right now, in baptism.

So, conditional time salvation has rightly pointed out that we must be very careful not to think that every time we see the word saved that it means the acquisition of eternal life. Okay? Secondly, I think that conditional time salvation is strong in the sense that it is very easy to understand. In fact, so easy to understand that it bothers me a little bit. The Bible is a complex book folks; it's a tough book, in case you haven't figured that out. But it is not so tough that a child of God, with the guidance of spiritual people and the guidance especially of the Holy Spirit, can't understand it.

Okay? So don't give up if you're reading the Bible saying “Well, the Bible’s too tough for me”, especially if you're a child. You say, “Well, the Bible is just too big to me. I won't try that”. No, you will find that the Bible stretches you, a little at a time to where that the big things you may not get right off, but you get something good that stretches you, and as it stretches you, you can get something a little bigger, next time, and something a little bigger, the next time. You see?

Conditional time salvation though has sliced things out in such an orderly way, that it's very easy to understand. Somebody says, “What does the Bible mean, when it says believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”? And you say, “Well, there is a bucket for that”. The bucket is that's talking about time, not eternity. And so we take our shovel and we pickup that great powerful verse and we toss it into the time salvation bucket and say “That’s just talking about this Earth. It isn't talking about heaven. After all, you don't have to believe to go to heaven”. Okay?

I don't want to oversimplify, but that's what I've done. I know that's what I’ve done in the past. Okay? It made it easy, when in fact that verse is slightly more complex than that. I don't understand all that's in the verse, but I do know that it's a little more complex than that and anytime, my father taught me this, when I was first starting to preach my dad taught me this, he said, “Any time you take a text of the Bible and say, ‘Oh, that's just…’ and fill in the blank. Any time you take a text and proceeded with the words, ‘Oh, that's just’...wait a minute”. What are we handling here folks? This is the mind of God. This is the speech of God. These are the breathings of His Spirit. Don't tell me it's just anything. That’s reductionistic.

I want all the power God has in His word. I want it to cut like that two-edged sword, to cut off the things that aren’t right and to bind up those things which are. I need all the power the word of God has. But conditional time salvation is easy to understand.

And then finally it is, I think in its strength, it is clearly distinct from Arminianism. That is in terms of heaven; very clearly distinct from that and that’s been a strength. It's easy for us to get hold of and say “Well any verse that sounds conditional, we’re going to plug into time. And any verse that sounds unconditional, we’ll plug into heaven. Therefore we know we are not Armenian”. And I myself many times, and other preachers, I've heard them preach and they almost have to explain to God in every sermon, “God, I am not an Arminian”. You know? “Please don't strike me down God. I am not one of those”.

Listen. There are worse things than being Arminian. Did you know that? There are worse things than that. But the doctrine has made it very easy to say, we are completely separate and distinct from kind of a free-will view of salvation. But therein I think is even a challenge itself because what we tend to do in reacting to one error, is do what? Go into another error. Overreact. So our theology can’t be derived from studying an error, and saying, “Now how can I refute that”? That's what happens in debates; you wind up overstating your case because, after all I've got to beat, I've got to win. Okay?

So we’ve got to be cautious, not to just look out there and see the landscape in the religious world and say “How can we refute all those things and here's my arguments”? And so we build them bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and as the generations goon, they get even larger. We've simply got to go back to the book and say, “Lord just teach me. Let me try to get away from the preconceived notions as best I can. I respect everybody I've loved and known, but God help me to just hear what you're saying”. That's so critical; it's so critical to do that.

And so I've tried; I've honestly tried to do that. You know what's been surprising to me? The more I came to see that conditional time salvation was an over simplification, and an improper emphasis, I started looking through historical writings of Primitive Baptists and found out that our old brethren didn't believe conditional time salvation. That was a shock to me. I thought everybody had always believed it. You know? That's what I heard when I was little, if anybody preached a practical duty sermon, as I said, you know, what I heard them saying was, “Throw it in the conditional time bucket and that takes care of that”. And I thought that's just the way Primitive Baptists always have been.

Then I started looking back at some old documents and maybe some of those I'll bring with me to the pulpit in the future, and I discovered, this is relatively modern. In fact, I think that as the generations have rolled along and we have become more and more biblically illiterate. Let me say that: biblically illiterate. Don't you think we live in an illiterate age, biblically speaking? I mean just generally when you go out, people know almost nothing about the Bible.

Like the kid who drove by the manger scene, and he said “Oh, look. Adam and Eve”. You know, we’re in that kind of age; that's where we live. And churches aren't much better off, in some cases. They know a few verses and a few things but you know the whole theological landscape really does fall apart.

Well, as we have become more and more biblically illiterate, we have also developed a more and more simplistic theology in the world. Easy-believism. Just make a decision and that takes care of that. It doesn't matter how you live, just make a decision. Maybe among Primitive Baptists, what's the idea? Well, you know they're saved but they're just missing all the joys of their salvation. First time I've started hearing that for real, I remember asking myself the question, are they really missing something? Wait a minute, are they really miserable? They're missing joy, they must be miserable. And I thought, I’m going to follow around some of these people and look at how much fun they were having.

Listen. A child of God by virtue of his new birth can’t continue comfortably in sin. And I would see people continuing comfortably in sin. They were being pronounced by preachers to be children of God and I thought, wait a minute, something's not adding up here. I don't know how to put that together, except to say that a person who does continue comfortably in sin, may not be born again. I’m not going to pronounce him in hell, but I'm just going to say, I can’t assure him of salvation, if he isn't living like a saved person. Okay?

Primitive Baptists have not historically believed conditional time salvation. I think the doctrine came out of the divisions which occurred in the early 1900s. I have right here today a couple of issues of Zion’s Landmark. These were published in Roanoke, Virginia, interestingly enough. This one is published on October 15, 1923. Just let me read you a little part of this because this debate was going on then.

1923. Don't you think we should grow up? 1923, you know what happened? There were some Primitive Baptists who became so interested in the doctrine of God's sovereignty, that's where they spent all their time. That they simply could not allow that man had responsibility at all and they came to be known as, what we affectionately call Absoluter Primitive Baptists. Okay? And honestly, I believe many of those churches went into a doctrinal ditch. Going so far establishing the sovereignty of God that they really almost made God the author of sin; some I think did. Not all by any means but some, God authored sin.

On the other hand, you had folks like us who said, “No way, José”. There is responsibility that man has. Man is responsible, but of course his responsibility doesn't have anything to do with his salvation. It's a separate thing. Again reductionistic thinking probably. What happened? Probably, we went into another ditch trying to refute an error, right? Off over here in another ditch saying, “Oh man. You’ve got do your works or you won't get any blessings”.

Let me just pose this question. How many blessings have you had in your life that you never lifted one finger for? I mean, could you even begin to count them? The blessings that flow to us by virtue of the fact that Jesus died 2000 years ago are incalculable. The very fact that you want to obey is a blessing of His hand.

Listen to this, in 1923 Primitive Baptists were dividing over this and this insightful writer says now, listen.

"Suppose we go ahead and divide our people. What have we accomplished? Sober question, what have we accomplished? Of course some preacher would have the pleasure of setting at naught and ignoring some other preacher whom he does not like. Some brethren would rejoice at the thought that now we have gotten rid of them, but great God, at what cost? No matter which side had the majority, both crowds would be ruined. Suppose the lines were drawn, what would follow?"

And here's what I want you to listen to, those of you who've hung around Primitive Baptists I know about 50% or so of our congregation, not Primitive Baptist background; that's wonderful. But those of you who’ve been around for a while, you're going to resonate with this thing. I know you are. Listen to this:

“Suppose the lines were drawn. What would follow? I dread to think of it. Ministers who have long loved each other and labored together in heats and colds, in poverty and perils, in joys and sorrows, who understand each other as no one else does, would be forced apart. And would become estranged from each other and would have to stand by and see the labor of a lifetime dashed to pieces. Ministers would be prohibited from visiting and preaching to churches that they love and that love them. Churches would be divided and brethren and sisters who have lived a long time in the service of God together would become enemies for life. Families would be divided, fellowship broken, peace destroyed and there would be a reign of crimination, recrimination, evil reports and falsehood”.

Now listen.

"Our children, many of them would turn away from us in disgust. Many lovers of truth on the outside, who are looking to us to show them the way, would be discouraged and turn elsewhere for help. It means suicide."

And those of you who have been around for a while know that that article in 1923, was prophecy.

I was talking to pastor a few days ago. “How’s the church doing”?

“Well the people who are there are great. We love each other very much and we have wonderful services, but there are two generations missing”, he said.

There it was. 1923, published in our own city, to the Primitive Baptists at-large.

What happens when such divisions occur? Well, you wind up with extremes on both sides and somewhere in the middle is the truth. Somewhere in the middle is the truth. God is absolutely sovereign, over everything that happens. I am eliminating nothing. If there is one maverick molecule in the universe, God is not on the throne. Man is responsible to obey God. He must do what God says or else. And both are in the Bible and both are true. And again, that's all I can say about that. They're both there.

Conditional time salvation attempts to resolve that tension, or so-called tension between those two, but does so I believe in a cheap way. As I close, let me give you four things that I think the doctrine relates to doctrines that are important. I want you to get this, so don't think the sermon ended right there.

Conditional time salvation has bearing on many biblical doctrines. What I think happens is we develop this grid. And again I don't want to be disrespectful at all. Some of the best friends I've got the world believe this doctrine. Okay? I'm telling the honest truth, some of the best friends I have in the world, believe this. I once believed it. And so when someone else comes in this pulpit and preaches it, unless it's just so flagrantly violating scripture that I can't in good conscience let it go, I'm not going to make a scene, and you'd better not either. Okay?

So I'm not being disrespectful, but there are other areas that this doctrine affects. We place this grid, as it were, over the scripture. Kind of like the Bible’s a code and what you need is our computer puncher. You know, you’ve got those old timey computer things. You know, they had the cards and you punch out the certain holes and then lay it over something and you could see through the holes. And ah, you’ve got a message.

Well that isn’t the way the Bible is supposed to be read. But if you have this grid that no conditional verse can have anything to do with eternity, it does affect how you view some other things. God's sovereignty. That's really what I’ve really spent a lot of time using as an illustration in this today. God's sovereignty is an example.

But secondly, the doctrine of the new birth gets redefined to some degree, in this way. My question is what does the new birth look like? Conditional time salvation would suggest that a person could be born again and not realize it. A person can be born again and not follow Christ. And I would suggest that the Scriptures teach that the new birth is not a subtle thing; not the kind of thing that you miss easily, not the kind of thing that could be overlooked or misunderstood.

The new birth is something that happens in the life of a child of God, and he is forever changed. If any man be in Christ, he is what? A new creature. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. A big difference happens with the new birth.

The doctrine of perseverance gets redefined. In fact, many Primitive Baptist churches today are eliminating the word perseverance from their articles of faith. It blows my mind; it just absolutely blows my mind.

Now the word perseverance means that a person will persevere; he will hang in there, in a state of grace until death. He will continue, at least to some degree, in the way of righteousness; that if he sins, he repents. The just man falls down seven times, and rises again. Prov. 24:16.

That’s the doctrine of perseverance. Many of our churches today have eliminated the word perseverance. A pastor recently was visiting someone who was all upset about this. They said it should be preservation, not perseverance, which is true too. Preservation is...let me put it this way. Yesterday I held Casey's hand. It was the sweetest thing. She went to sleep in church. It's all right when you're four years old, not 40. She went to sleep in church at four years old with her hand in mine. You know how we held hands? Like Hannah and I hold hands; that is, her fingers were woven into mine.

Now, her hand was tiny in mine. I don't have a real, real big hand, but it was gargantuan beside of hers. Perseverance is having my little teeny, tiny, infinitesimally small hand in God’s hand. That's perseverance. Preservation is God's great, big, massive hand that holds up universes, holding mine. Both are right! Both are true! Both are taught in the Bible. It's blowing my mind that people want to eliminate half of the picture or part of that picture.

Friends, there can’t be anything better than for me to reach up and hold onto the hand of God. Why rob me of that? But I'm so thankful that when I let go, He doesn't. Conditional time salvation tends to overlook perseverance and suggests that it's possible for God's children to fall so far away from God that they never really know God. And it ignores I believe the teachings of Jesus, John, Paul and others, that saints by their calling do persevere.

Fourthly, and very much related, in fact it's really the same one just with a different name, and I'm almost finished, the doctrine of sanctification. As I said earlier, the doctrine of conditional time salvation tends to suggest that sanctification is an optional part of the package that happens to some of God’s children, but not all. And I would suggest that's not true, at least based on John 17:17 in which Jesus prayed. Jesus prayed for all His children. Father "sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."(John 17:17)

Jesus prayed that every one of His children would be sanctified by the Word. Amazing statement, and did Jesus’s prayers always get answered? Yes. So God is in the process of sanctifying, making holy, drawing people to Himself. You say, “Well I'm not as holy as I need to be”. Amen, but you know why you know you're not as holy as you need to be? Because of the sanctifying grace of God. The more holy you become, the more unholiness you see. The closer to God you get, the further the distance seems to be.

Sanctifying grace, I want you to know that that’s a guaranteed part of the salvation package.

And then the doctrine of conditional time salvation has bearing on the doctrine of justification, especially the doctrine of justification by faith. Romans 5:1 says:

"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God…"

Now the text clearly says being justified by faith we have peace. Where? With God. Peace has been established with God. The doctrine of conditional time salvation takes that verse and says that’s something that happens in the conscience. Being justified by faith we have peace with God is only an event in the conscience. I say sure, that's true, but there’s more there than just that. It isn't just a conscience thing, there's more than that. Okay? So, and that more is something such as what happens before God's bar of justice, even in heaven.

So generally what we find is that it fails to recognize that the grace which saves is the grace which sanctifies. The grace which rescues us from hell’s dark doom is the grace also that is powerful in our lives to overcome the struggles against sin in this life and to truly be victorious as we walk along. It comes down to the question then, really, I think the key question in which we will try to deal with perhaps next week, is the question…are you listening? This is the question. Will all of God's children believe in Jesus? And the answer in the Bible is unequivocally, yes. The verse we read in the beginning, John 20:31:

"But these are written [John said, I have written these things. Why?], that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." Whatever else that verse says or implies it lets us know that believing and eternal life are married. I say again, what God has joined together let not man put asunder. Now just to resolve one little question before next, it's like one of those cliffhanger sermons. You know, your going have to come back next week because this sounds a little bit like something it's not. Did you get that? It sounds a little bit like something that it's not.

Somebody might be saying, “Well, that's right. That's what I’ve heard in every other church I've ever gone to. Just believe and you get saved”. So let me resolve that quickly and then I'll close. It's simply this. When a person believes, where did he get the belief? Where did that faith come from?

You say, “Well, I decided one day that the claims of Christianity made sense. I decided to believe it”. Why in the world did you decide the claims of Christianity made sense? They don't make any sense at all to the natural man; completely foolish to the natural man. Where did you get the inclination to believe? It came from God.

Salvation by grace. If belief is a condition to salvation. Okay? Let me just say it that way. If belief is a condition to salvation, do you know where the belief comes from? From the God who elected you to salvation. It's all part of the plan. All part of the plan. And I do submit that that is the historic and biblical position that's been held by Primitive Baptists in ages past.

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